1914: Voices from the Battlefields

Matthew Richardson

Pen & Sword, 2013

1914 Voices from the BattlefieldsNow that the opening salvoes of the First World War centenary commemorations have well and truly died down, now is a good time to reflect on the commemorations so far. Despite a media frenzy that started at the beginning of 2014, the main focus seemed to be on the outbreak of the war (and the reasons behind it), and the Christmas Truce. There was little that dealt with the campaigns and battles of 1914, and I think you will be hard-pressed to find people whose knowledge about Mons, the Marne, the Aisne, and Ypres has really been broadened by the offerings on screen and in the press. The battles of 1915, bar the Gallipoli campaign and some coverage of Loos, have barely merited any press and media attention. Presumably everyone is too busy preparing for the Somme tie-ins that we will doubtless be inundated with next year.

For me one of the most fascinating aspects of the war is reading the first-hand accounts of those who were there and who experienced the battles and conditions that history books can only do their best to describe in so many superlatives.

In this fine book Matthew Richardson has pulled together many accounts of the opening stages of the war. But this is not just a collection of soundbites; the book has been thoroughly researched to give the reader an introduction (albeit a brief one) to the events being described.

Drawing on many of the well-known, and lesser-known, accounts of the war, Richardson assuredly weaves his narrative with the accounts of men fighting for all the major protagonists. Their stories speak for themselves but Richardson has carefully selected them to provide a balanced account of the battles. Reading them adds an extra dimension to these events, bringing them to life.

The book is well-researched – no surprise given that the author is the ex-curator of the Liddle archive. It is copiously and relevantly illustrated with carefully sourced pictures and maps, and whilst the veracity of some of the sources is not explored, this is pretty much as close as we can now get to understanding the war from the soldiers’ perspective.

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1914: Voices from the Battlefields