This is the second part of a trilogy of books originally produced to mark the centenary of the First Battle of Ypres. The first covered the move of the BEF to the Ypres area and the third looks at the fighting further north, around the Menin Road. This volume focuses in the south half of the British front, around the village and ridge of Messines, key parts of the front line for most of the war.
The text swaps between the British and German point of view, with most sections supported by at least one eyewitness account, so we normally see each incident from both sides. One rather nice touch here is that the changes in viewpoint are marked in the margin, with a British officer’s hat and German spiked helmet, so you can always spot the joins!
This battle took place towards the end of the first phase of the war, where there was still some movement, so the early part of the book looks at the cavalry actions, in which both sides were attempting to find gaps in the line. After that we move onto the desperate British defensive battles, where tired and exhausted units from the BEF managed to slow down and eventually stop almost equally tired German units. As a result there is a rather different feel to the first part of the book, where there is still some mobility and the second, where we are at the start of the more familiar trench warfare.
The text is supported by copious extracts from memoirs (including one impressively florid German author), wartime maps and photographs. These give a feel for the desperate nature of the fighting on both sides, as both armies began to run out of steam, and in the case of the BEF, experienced troops.
The account of the battle is supported by a series of battlefield tours, each with its own map, photographs of key locations etc. The directions seem clear, although I haven’t been able to test them on the ground! A test on Google street view suggests that the descriptions are accurate, and easy to follow.
1 - Cavalry Operations: The lead up to the main action 16-29 October
2 - 30 October-2 November: The Assaults on Messines, Wytschaete, Hollebeke and Zandvoorde
3 - The Last Days of the Battle
1 - Cavalry Actions mid October 1914
2 - The Assault of 26th Infantry Division against Messines 30-31 October 1914
3 - A Walking Tour of Messines
4 - Operations West of Messines, 2-10 November
5 - A Loop around Wijtschate
6 - The Kruiseke - Zandvoorte Area
7 - Shrewsbury Forest and Surrounding Area
8 - Circuit of Hollebeke
9 - Circuit of Zwarteleen and Klein Zillebeke
Author: Nigel Cave and Jack Sheldon
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military