Victoria Crosses on the Western Front - Somme 1916, 1 July 1916-13 November 1916, Paul Oldfield

Victoria Crosses on the Western Front - Somme 1916, 1 July 1916-13 November 1916, Paul Oldfield

The battle of the Somme is still the best known and most infamous British battle of the First World War, famous for the massive casualty figures on the first day, and the relative lack of progress by the end of the battle. As a result of the intensity of the battle, a large number of Victoria Crosses were awarded. As a result the Somme gets a single large volume in this ongoing history of the Victoria Cross during the First World War.

This book is split into two halves. First comes a series of narratives looking at the battles in which these VCs were won, well supported by detailed maps and pictures of the battlefield. The deeds that resulted in the award of the Victoria Cross are weaved into this part of the text – sometimes as a solid block and sometimes spread out, depending on the nature of the recepient’s actions. This section thus provides an interesting account of the battle, and is better suited to be read through from start to finish than most books on the VC.

The biographies are unusually wide ranging. In many cases they include a fairly detailed account of the recipient’s parents and children. The biographies of the recpients themselves include more detail than is often the case, going beyond their wartime service and including their private life, career and on occasion Second World War service. The fate of the medals is also covered. The exploits that led to the award of the VC aren’t covered – that would be a repeat of the first half – but the award ceremony is included. The same detailed approach is taken in the captions to many of the pictures, so at one point we get a complete service history of RMS Olympic, the first of the three ships in the same class as the Titanic. If I’m honest, sometimes there is too much peripheral detail here, but if you are interested in a particular recipient then it’ll be of value for you. This is the larger section of the book, and is much more of a traditional VC reference work than the first half, better dropped in and out of to find items of particular interest.

I like this format – the first half is more readable than many books on medal winners, while the second half provides all of those details that would otherwise have disrupted the flow of the book.

1 - Battle of Albert
2 - Bazentin Ridge and Delville Wood
3 - Battle of Pozières Ridge
4 - Guillemont and Flers-Courcelette
5 - Morval and Thiepval Ridge
6 - Transloy Ridges and the Ancre

Author: Paul Oldfield
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2016

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