The 1917 Campaign
Uniform Press, 2017
If you are thinking this title sounds familiar, you are correct; this is not a new book, but rather a re-print. First published in 1958, Leon Wolff’s work is now oft-quoted as an example of the anti-war sentiment of the era, along with Oh, What a Lovely War and The Donkeys. But in a way Wolff led this pack (see what I did there?!), being published 5 years before the former and 3 before the latter.
Uniform Press re-published the book to coincide with the centenary of the Third Ypres campaign, the only amendment being a brief introduction by Freddy Declerck (Chairman of Memorial Museum Passchendaele) and some additional footnotes.
Wolff’s interest in the war is not immediately apparent. An American journalist, he was born the year the war broke out, but he appears to have been drawn to the story of Passchendaele and all the images and associations that this brings up, now as it did then.
Putting the campaign in context, Wolff covers the earlier battles of the year before moving on to focus on Third Ypres. His view of the campaign is made apparent from the outset – ‘…I found it impossible to escape the point of view which probably colours much too plainly the telling of the story.’ Whilst he draws on numerous references, a lot has of course changed in the last 60 years, both in the attitude towards the war and the sources and information available, and the book does not compare against more recent rigorous works such as Nick Lloyds’s excellent ‘Passchendaele: A New History’ (2017).
Whilst not particularly complimentary about the decisions that resulted in the Third Ypres campaign being undertaken and the way that it was executed, Wolff reserves his greatest ire for Haig’s decision to carry on with the offensive after 4th October. Yet Lloyd George is criticised too and in fact none of the generals or politicians are painted in a particularly flattering light.
The footnotes are largely minor comments on the content, rather than any analysis, and it feels that there was a missed opportunity here to provide some commentary on Wolff’s assertions to help provide the reader with a more balanced view.
Of its time, certainly, but well-written and has its place as a contributor to the historiography of the conflict.
Buy this book from Amazon here:
In Flanders Fields: The 1917 Campaign