The Man Who Saved Paris

Roger West’s Ride 1914

By Michael Carragher

Uniform Press, 2017

This intriguingly-titled book explores the early war experiences of Roger West, who enlisted in the Intelligence Corps as a motorcycle despatch rider shortly after war broke out. The diary itself only covers the period 4 August – 18 September but West certainly had some interesting experiences during this time, not least helping to destroy a bridge in an act which prevented the Germans from crossing a key river and closing the gap with the French and British – an act which could, argues Michael Carragher, have changed the course of the early part of the war.

West’s diary entries are reproduced in full, with explanatory remarks provided by Carragher where needed. After each day’s entry Carragher then imparts some context to the events, giving the reader a broader picture of how West’s experiences fitted in with what was occurring that day. He then gives a much wider perspective of what was going on in the war; somewhat disarmingly, to me at least, these are written in the present tense. Much of this additional context has no direct bearing on the events being relayed in the book – this is not, after all, a history of the war – and I felt it did not really benefit from their inclusion.

West’s narrative and recollection of events is eloquent and conveys something of the confusion and panic of the retreat from Mons, as West rode around the countryside trying to find British troops and avoid German ones. Of his own part in destroying the bridge at Pointoise he is very matter of fact and modest, indeed it is down to Carragher to pick apart the impact that destroying the bridge had, in a chapter at the end of the book. As an aside it appears that ‘the man who saved Paris’ is a somewhat apocryphal moniker, for unless I missed it, it does not appear to be a referenced credit.

The book is supplemented by a number of relevant pictures and a comprehensive index and bibliography. One aspect of the book that must be commended is the footnotes – if only every book was as voraciously referenced!

So was West ‘The Man Who Saved Paris’? I will leave it for the reader to decide. However, this is undeniably a fascinating account not only of someone who was there in the early days of the war, but also from quite a ‘niche’ area of operations at that time and who was witness to some of the key events from that period of the war. Well worth a read.

Buy this book from Amazon here:
The Man Who Saved Paris: Roger West’s Ride