Givenchy was right in the middle of the British front line for much of the First World War, with Ypres to the north, Loos, Lens and Arras to the south. As a result this is very different to other 'place' in the Great War books, as it covers somewhere that was on the frontline for almost the entire war, and part of the British defences for most of that time (the Germans briefly captured the village twice in 1914 but were unable to keep it, and failed to take it in 1918). The village itself rather quickly disappeared, and by the end of the war all that was left was the mound of rubble that marked the position of the church.
As a result this book is something of a snapshot of the fighting on the Western Front, with some specific local features - the presence of Indian troops early in the war and the Portuguese nearby later on, or the intense effort that both sides put into digging mines in the area - the front to the north-east of the village was dominated by a crater field, and the last mine to be exploded on the Western Front was used here. There is also a interesting section on the underground defences of 1918, where some of the various British surface strong points were connected by a network of tunnels.
It's interesting to follow a single point through the major battles of 1914, 1915 and 1918 and the quieter spells of 1916 and 1917. This gives a good idea of what the average experience of the Western Front would have been like - a mix of moments of extreme danger, mixed with quiet spells in the front and plenty of time behind the lines.
In format this is a good example of the standard modern First World War battle history, with a good mix of narrative and eyewitness accounts (not too heavy on the eyewitness statements, which can sometimes bog down some texts). It would have been nice to have had more information on what happened to the villagers, but otherwise this is an interesting work.
There is also a brief epilogue on Givenchy in 1940, which demonstrates just how far warfare had moved on - an attempt to defend the canal south of the village only lasted from 25-27 May, before the retreat to Dunkirk had to continue.
1 - 1914
2 - 1915
3 - 1916
4 - 1917
5 - 1918 and After
Author: Phil Tomaselli
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military