A History of 11th (Service) Battalion (Cambs) Suffolk Regiment
By Joanna Costin
Pen & Sword, 2016
Let’s face it, there isn’t much you can do to vary the format of a battalion history – the standard (and most logical) approach is a chronological one in order to produce a narrative of the unit in question and the experiences of the men within it. For me what makes a battalion history stand out is the ‘extras’ – the individual stories, photographs, and analysis that flesh out the chronology and give an insight into the battalion and the men who served in it. In this respect Joanna Costin’s work succeeds admirably.
The 11th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, more commonly known as the ‘Cambridgeshire Kitcheners’ was formed shortly after war broke out. It went overseas in January 1916, and its first action was on the 1st July when it attacked La Boiselle as part of 34th Division. A chapter examines the first day, with additional chapters exploring how the Somme was reported locally and the further actions the battalion was involved in during the campaign. Unfortunately there are no maps to illustrate where the battalion was in action during this time, which would have provided some useful context.
Deciphering war diaries and brigade records can be trying at the best of times; using these diverse sources to build a coherent picture of a battle can be even harder. However Costin manages to achieve this, with many personal accounts complementing the narrative.
An informative mix of sources have been drawn upon throughout the book, from newspapers to personal accounts and letters. As you would expect there are many photographs of the men mentioned in the text, as well as other relevant contemporary pictures such as places that the men were based.
The author’s narrative complements the approach nicely; enough information about the war to provide the context without overwhelming the reader with superfluous information. As mentioned some maps of the areas in question would not have gone amiss for those with less knowledge of the battles and actions of the war, but overall this is great read for those with an interest in the battalion or the recruitment and performance of the ‘New Army’
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Cambridgeshire Kitcheners: A History of 11th (Service) Battalion (Cambs) Suffolk Regiment