Death of a Division

Eight Days in March 1918 and the Untold Story of the 66th (2/1st East Lancashire) Division

By David Martin

Frontline Books, 2018

David Martin is certainly a glutton for punishment; following his 2014 book ‘Londoners on the Western Front’, following the 58th London Division, he has written another divisional history this time covering the 66th Division.

There are advantages and disadvantages of the divisional history versus a battalion history. Whilst the latter is certainly easier to track, in terms of only having one unit to follow, the former can give a wider perspective of the war and the units involved. However this can be at the expense of the individual soldier’s experiences. However, Martin tells the story with accomplishment, managing to relate the overall experience of the units involved (although naturally with a focus on the infantry elements of the division) alongside individual stories and recollections.

As a Territorial division, the 66th did not serve overseas until mid-1917. It was engaged in the Third Battle of Ypres – for which it is commemorated by a stained glass window in Passchendaele church – but was effectively reduced to cadre strength following its losses during the German Spring offensive, where it incurred 7,000 casualties in just over a week. These few days form the focus of the book.

It can be a difficult beast untangling the movements and actions of the different units from the war diaries and other sources, but Martin manages to unpick the various elements to give a well-rounded and researched account of the chaotic actions during this time. He utilises a number of personal accounts to supplement the narrative, and shows something of the impact that the casualties had on the mill towns that provided the bulk of the men of the division. Thankfully the book contains a number of simple maps that provide a useful aid to follow the action, as well as the expected selection of relevant photographs, an index, and bibliography.

This is a great addition to the available divisional histories and also timely to coincide with the centenary of the Spring offensive.

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Death of a Division: Eight Days in March 1918 and the Untold Story of the 66th (2/1st East Lancashire) Division