By Michael Harrison
Pen & Sword, 2017
High Wood is often described as a ‘brooding’ or ‘looming’ mass. Its presence is felt across the Somme landscape; the clue is in the name, for its position affords an excellent view of the landscape for miles around. As the wood remains private property many of its secrets remain undisturbed, perhaps contributing to its mystique.
The wood was fought over for two months before it was finally taken in September 1916, and Michael Harrison tells the story of the bitter battle for its capture using war diaries and personal accounts. He follows the course of events from 14th July, from the lost opportunity to take the wood that day through to the subsequent attempts to evict the Germans from the formidable switch line that ran through the wood.
The cost of capturing the wood was high, with the 47th Division losing 4,500 men killed, wounded, and missing. In one chilling statistic Harrison highlights how in the post-war battlefield clearances, in one area of 500×500 yards, just 16 bodies of 661 recovered were identified.
The book contains a short section on visiting the battlefield; given that High Wood is private property there is only so much that can be said about visiting it. Although the author does a good job of leading the reader round the areas associated with the battle some of the content does seem extraneous to the subject of the book.
Overall the book reads well, although some of the author’s turns of phrase sat a little awkwardly to me. Some editorial input would have been beneficial too; for example in one paragraph three different ways of naming units are used. Unfortunately the book also has a few errors in it, for example the 1st Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) are erroneously referred to as the 1st Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). My biggest gripe with the book though is the lack of any footnotes. Numerous source are used and it would be interesting to know what they are. Unfortunately the lack of referencing (and attribution of many photographs and maps too), coupled with only a ‘selective’ biography, is frustrating.
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High Wood (Battleground)