This is one of a large number of histories of Pals battalions that appeared in the late 1990s, marking the eightieth anniversary of the war (and in particular of the Somme). All of the usual elements are present (battalions formed during the period of patriotic enthusiasm at the start of the war, training on the moors (Sutton Park and the Yorkshire Dales in this case), travel to France and early small-scale combat, disaster on the Somme, later battles and amalgamations of the battalions), but this book has some features that make it stand out.
First of all Carter had realised that many aspects of trench warfare repeated themselves, so instead of providing a continuous narrative with comparatively little detail he had chosen to compress large periods into concise lists of each battalions movements and activities (up to four months in a single page) and instead provide more details of a smaller number of key actions. We thus get some of the best accounts of trench raids that I have read, following the actions of very small groups of men and even some individuals during the chaos of a night-time raid across the shattered landscape of no-mans-land.
Carter has also chosen not to gloss over the ghastly nature of trench warfare, so one gets a grim picture of life knee deep in mud in badly drained trenches, and the constant presence of death - both new death as snipers and German artillery took its toll and old death as the bodies of the dead of earlier battles were disturbed by new fighting.
Another nice touch is the short post-war biographies of a number of the more prominent men who featured in the main text. This matches nicely with the earlier section on the recruitment of the battalions, when young middle class men were expressly targeted.
During their time in action the three battalions of Birmingham Pals took part in the battle of the Somme, the third battle of Ypres, the fighting in Italy, the defeat of the German spring offensive of 1918 and the final victorious Allied advance, so their experiences provide a view of the most important British actions of 1916-18.
1 - Birmingham
2 - Birmingham: August 1914
3 - Birmingham Pals: The Turn of the Middle Class
4 - Training Commences - 'Berlin via Sutton'
5 - 14th, 15th & 16th Royal Warwicks: Birmingham Pals to France
6 - The Arras Front
7 - The Somme: July to October 1916
8 - October 1916 to December 1917: La Basseé, Vimy Ridge, Arras and 3rd Ypres
9 - December 1917 to November 1918: Italy, Nieppe Forest and the Advance to Victory
10 - Conclusion
Roll of Honour
Author: Terry Carter
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2011 edition, 1997 original