It’s fair to say this book is aimed at something of a niche market! The Army Service Corps was responsible for keeping the army supplied in the field, and grew to a vast size during the First World War. This book contains an impressive collection of the picture postcards send home by members of this unit, with some officially produced images but a much larger number of cards based on privately taken photographs. As a result most of the cards show groups of men, either in formal lines, or posed around their equipment.
The first three chapters focus on the ASC at home. One theme of the first two chapters, looking at the pre-war corps, is the gradual mechanisation of the army. There are lorries right at the start, but as an innovation and in small numbers. The first traction engines and similar tracked vehicles are a real novelty, worthy of individual postcards. By 1914 the corps is operating fleets of vehicles, with motor convoys a regular sight. The most obvious difference when we reach the home front during the war is the scale of operations, with much larger groups of men, bigger camps and longer convoys.
A general theme soon develops in the section on the Western Front, with a majority of pictures being of groups of men on or around vehicles, normally in a rear area (and often against a background of entirely undamaged buildings, which says they were taken out of shell range). This is inevitable, as it would have been much easier to take a postcard worthy picture in the relative safety of the rear areas! There are one or two from the front, and the contrast is quite sobering.
The chapter on ‘Overseas Theatres’ is rather misleading titled, and is actually entired filled with pictures from the British occupation of parts of western Germany, in particular Cologne. The chapter on ‘other theatres’ actually includes the overseas theatres, although as the author acknowledges right at the start, far few postcards were sent from overseas, simply because it was much more difficult to get photographs developed. Even so there are cards from every major theatre of land operations, with more variety here simply because the backdrops were more varied.
One minor irritant is that author has decided to keep all of the pictures the same size, and has only left room for a fairly small caption. As a result some of the information relating to the pictures ends up in end notes, where it is unlikely to be discovered. I would have preferred a more flexible approach to the size of the pictures to allow this extra text to accompany them on the page, or perhaps even reducing the number of pictures to three per two page spread when needed.
This book isn’t quite as specialised as the title might make you think. If you are interested in the regular Images of War books on this period, then this should appeal to you – the pictures are reasonably varied, and illustrate an important part of the British Army, without which the fighting arms would have soon run out of supplies.
1 - Early Years: 1902-1908
2 - Pre-War Years: 1908-1914
3 - Training on the Home Front: 1914-1918
4 - The Home Front: 1914-1918
5 - The Western Front: 1914-1918
6 - Overseas Theatres: 1914-1919
7 - Other Theatres of War
Author: Michael Young
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military