Although you wouldn’t always realise it from British accounts of the Western Front, the French Army always held the longest part of the front, and was still the largest Allied army in the west at the end of the war (although not by quite such a big margin as in earlier years). As such the French also suffered more casualties than the British. This book looks at the experiences of the French soldier, from the initial enthusiasm of 1914, through the costly early battles, the bitter fighting at Verdun, the disasters of 1917 and the more mobile and eventually victorious battles of 1918.
This book is built around an impressive array of first hand accounts written by veterans of the French Army on the Western Front. This is supported by a good narrative of the French side of the war, which places the soldier’s thoughts in their context. Most of the material comes from diaries and letters, written close in time to the events being discussed, and thus reflecting how the authors thought at the time. We also get some material from the home front – from factory workers, families of soldiers etc.
This is an excellent piece of work, giving the English language reader a vivid insight into the struggles of the French Army, something that is often difficult to find away from Verdun and the famous mutinies of 1917. A very good addition to the literature on the Western Front. As one might expect, it’s not the most cheerful of pieces, with plenty of accounts of how dreadful life was in the trenchs, but we also get quite a bit on what motivated the French soldiers to keep on fighting.
1 - ‘To Berlin!’ - 1914
2 - ‘Nibbling at the Enemy’ - 1915
3 - ‘They Shall Not Pass’ - 1916
4 - ‘Hold’ - 1917
5 - ‘Victory!’ - 1918
Author: Ian Sumner
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military