The Journey's End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey in the Great War, Michael Lucas

The Journey's End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey in the Great War, Michael Lucas

This battalion history looks at the 9th East Surrey regiment, part of Kitchener's New Army, raised in 1914, thrown into combat in September 1915 and that stayed on the Western Front for the rest of the war. This was also the unit in which R.C. Sheriff, author of Journey's End, served, and his play was influenced by the men he fought with.

We start with a look at the formation of the unit, the initial recruits and the nature of the unit. Most of its original recruits were working class Londoners, or at least from the modern Greater London area, with just over half coming from Surrey (which at the time included large areas of suburbia). We then move on to their disastrous combat debut at Loos in September 1915, where the untried battalion was thrown into battle and suffered heavy casualties. The battalion recovered from this early blow in time to take part in the fighting on the Somme in 1916, Messines in 1917 and the main battles of 1918, again suffering heavily during the German offensives before taking part in the final victorious Allied advances.

Alongside the straightforward battalion history is the story of R.C. Sherriff and Journey's End, the first really successful play to be set on the Western Front. Sheriff served with the battalion, took part in many of its battles and was inspired by his experiences. Lucas traces his military experiences, looks at how the battles he fought and the men he fought with inspired the play and finishes with a more detailed examination of the writing of the play and its reception. This gives the book an extra level of interest.

This is an excellent battalion history, with a good use of German and Allied sources and a good balance between the detailed actions of the battalion and the wider battles in which it fought. It gains added interest compared to many similar books for two reasons - first the material on R.C. Sherriff, which brings in the post-war reaction to the war, and second because the battalion survived to the end of the war (unlike many New Army battalions which were merged into other battalions when Britain began to run out of infantry), and so took part in the defensive battles in the spring of 1918 and the final allied offensives.

Part I: From Sussex to the Somme, August 1914-September 1914
1 - Call to Arms, August 1914-August 1915
2 - Loos, September 1915
3 - Recovery, October 1915-March 1916
4 - Wulverghem, March-July 1916
5 - Somme-Guillemont and Delville Wood, August-September 1916

Part II: Through Attrition to Final Victory, September 1916-November 1918
6 - Return to Loos, September-December 1916
7 - A Hard Winter, January-April 1917
8 - Messines and Pilckem Ridge, April-September 1917
9 - Before the Storm, September 1917-February 1918
10 - Kaiserschlacht, March 1918
11 - Holding the Line, April-September 1918
12 - Advance to Victory, October-11 November 1918

Part III: Reflections
13 - 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment in Review
14 - After the Armistice
15 - R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End
16 - The Last of the 'Gallants'

I: Roll of Honour
II: 9/East Surrey Fatalities by Month
III: Awards and Decorations
IV: Officers Serving Abroad with 9/East Surrey, 1915-1918
V: 24th Division Orders of Battle, 1915-1918

Author: Michael Lucas
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 246
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2012

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