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1914 Glory Departing

By: Edward Owen (570.12/36007)
Publisher: Buchan & Enright ISBN: 0907675387
From the John Laffin Library

To the dwindling numbers of survivors, it must sometimes seem strange that the momentous events of the first five months of the Great War now belong to history, and the glory – if ever there was any – has departed. What then was this glory, that was so soon to evaporate on the endless, hot, dusty pave of France and Belgium, in the muddy trenches of the Aisne, at an ancient Flemish town called Ypres?

It was what one German general called ‘that perfect thing apart’, the old red-coated, full-dress, Church-Parade-on-Sundays Regular Army of pre-war days. Not that the army was all spit-and-polish – the rapid aimed fire of these few divisions was frequently mistaken for machine-gun fire, and in 1914 was to put paid to any German hopes for a quick victory. With its French allies, the original British Expeditionary Force fought from Mons to Le Cateau and from the Marne to Aisne, and so to its last battle, ironically known as the First Battle of Ypres. And there the old Regular Army has its grave – on average, after First Ypres only one officer and thirty men remained of each of the original sixty-four battalions, 1,000 men strong, which had landed in France in August 1914.

Contrary to popular myth, the 1914-18 war was not always static. Trench warfare did not settle down until early 1915, when the opposing lines rand from Switzerland to the Channel coast were completed, turning the Western Front into a stagnant butcher’s shop for three and a half years. Before that, however, the fighting had been more open and mobile, subject to rapid advances, sweeping flanking manoeuvres, even limited cavalry break-throughs. In this book the author examines the causes of the Great War and studies the characters of the principal Allied and German commanders, and their armies. He demonstrates how the warfare of 1914 differed from that which followed, and analyses, from Mons to First Ypres, ending with a lucid appraisal of the short-and long-term effects of fighting, and a comparison with the German invasion of France in 1940.

‘That perfect thing apart’ was all but extinguished at a bulge in the line that came to be known as the Ypres Salient. By its sacrifice, it almost certainly caused the Germans – who had thus been denied their first, main objectives – to lose the war, disastrously far ahead though the end was.

December 2008


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