A Nation in Arms

The British Army in the First World War

Ian Beckett & Keith Simpson (eds.)

Pen & Sword, 2014

This collection was first published in 1985. Since then the study of the First World War has progressed considerably, yet the fact that this book remains relevant and readable is testament to the eminence and expertise of the contributors. With chapters from heavyweight historians such as Peter Simkins and Jay Winter, the contents read like a ‘who’s who’ of First World War studies.

The book reflects the study of the war as a whole, that is as a study of war and society rather than just the military operations aspect. For example Peter Simkins examines how soldiers were billeted in Britain and France, and the impact this close proximity to civilians had; Jay Winter looks at the demographic context of the army within society; and Ian Beckett provides a general overview of how the war affected all areas of British society.

As indicated by the book’s sub-title, the structure and composition of the army during the war are also given due attention. With chapters on the regular army (Edward Spiers), officers (Keith Simpson), the new armies (Clive Hughes), and the territorial force (Ian Beckett), a logical and comprehensive introduction to the British Army of the war years is provided.

Useful indexes cover the infantry divisions and cavalry and mounted divisions. Finally an annotated bibliography signposts the reader to further sources (albeit now somewhat dated).

Together, the chapters provide an excellent overview of how Britain mobilised its army, and its citizens, for a war that became all-consuming and impacted on all areas of society. Some of the subjects could benefit from a reassessment due to the new material that has since become available, but if nothing else A Nation in Arms is an excellent primer to learn about several core areas of the British Army and society during the war.

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A Nation in Arms: The British Army in the First World War (Pen & Sword Select)