Pen & Sword, 2014
Several books have been published during the centenary about the first few months of the First World War. Each takes a slightly different approach, and each has its merits and flaws. Andrew Rawson’s book is a narrative account of the movements, battles, and actions of the British Expeditionary Force from the Battle of Mons through to the close of the 1914 campaign. It is based largely on the Official History of the war, and the many regimental and battalion histories that were also produced. However battalion war diaries have not been consulted, Rawson asserting that ‘they are limited in their scope at best’ and ‘did not expand into the detailed accounts, which are sometimes backed up by the maps and diagrams we see after trench warfare has set in’. I have to disagree with these points, as I have read several diaries from 1914 that do go into detail and do contain maps and sketches, as well as operational orders. The diary of the 1st Queen’s, for example, contains a wealth of information about the Battle of Gheluvelt at the end of October 1914. You will also not find any personal accounts here; this is not a book about the men, but rather the units as a whole. Another area that is not included is the BEF’s casualty figures, due to the difficulty in compiling accurate statistics. However, this omission does make it difficult to assess and understand the impact of these early engagements, and makes for a more clinical account.
Nevertheless, what you do have here is a solid narrative of the BEF in 1914. An almost day by day account is provided, broken down by the Corps and Divisions involved. Maps are used plentifully, helping the reader to follow the movements described in the text. The conclusion offers some analysis of the BEF’s performance, as well as some of the crucial lessons that were learned as trench warfare set it. A comprehensive index allows individual units to be traced, and I would have no hesitation in recommending this as a useful narrative introduction to the opening phase of British involvement in the war.
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British Expeditionary Force – The 1914 Campaign