This book is part of a monumental series of books on the Victoria Crosses of the Western Front, eventually planned to include nine books! This particular entry covers the period between the famous battles of the Somme in 1916 and Third Ypres in 1917, but still covers fifty Victoria Crosses. This period included the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line on the Somme front and the Arras offensive, including the battle of Vimy Ridge.
The book is split into two main parts. The first part (about two fifths of the book) covers the events that led to each of these awards, while the larger second part provides biographies of each of the recipients.
I like the layout of the first section. In each case we get a general introduction to that part of the campaign, followed by the detailed events that led up to the award. This makes the text rather more useful than those books that focus just on the details of the Victoria Cross incident itself and fail to give much context. The text is supported by plentiful maps and photographs. This section also includes notes on the current layout of the area and how to find the site of the incidents, in each case placed as the caption to one of the maps. As a result the battle narrative flows nicely, while anyone who wants the battlefield guide can easily find it.
The biographies sometimes provide a little too much information – just to give an example I opened this section at random and found two pages devoted to the seventeen siblings of Edward Mott! The family backgrounds are interesting, but some of the detail could have been condensed somewhat. The level of detail on the individuals themselves is very impressive, and more justified, allowing us to see these men in the round. What is particually fascinating is the range of experiences and military careers – for some the VC came entirely out of the blue, while others had a pattern of similar actions, winning a series of other medals during the war. For those who survived the war their varied post-war experiences are also of great interest.
This is a very impressive achievement, and it’s hard to imagine anyone producing anything more detailed on this topic!
1 – Local Operations Winter 1917
2 – Advance to the Hindenburg Line
3 – The Arras Offensive
4 – Local Operations Summer 1917
5 – Battle of Messines and Prelude to Third Ypres
Author: Paul Oldfield
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military