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British Expeditionary Force - 1914 Campaign (Book)


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Has anyone read this book? British Expeditionary Force - 1914 Campaign by Andrew Rawson click Only published on 17th Dec 2014. Publisher's notes below:

The book concentrates on the British Expeditionary Force's defensive actions during the retreat from Mons through to the advance to the River Aisne and the first days of trench warfare. Then moved north to Ypres, where it endured three long weeks of German attacks. By compiling information from the Official History and the printed histories we get an in-depth British account of each large battle and minor action. Together the narrative and over 60 maps provide an insight into the British Army's experience during those early days of the First World War. This is about the men who made a difference, the men who fought off many times their number, those who led the counterattacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross. Discover the real 1914 campaign fought by the British Army and learn how the brave soldiers of the BEF fought hard to achieve their objectives.

If anyone has a view on this book I would be interested to hear. I am very slightly put off when I read the publisher's blurb; ".discover the real 1914 campaign.." as if everything else written before was not 'real'. I wonder what one might 'discover' in this book. Nearly as off-putting as "...the truth behind..." Any thoughts? Rawson's other books seem to be guidebooks but generally have good reviews. MG

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I know nothing about the book, though I frequently see it listed on Amazon as I trawl through coming publications. Mr Rawson is certainly a prolific author, and I would assume, probably wrongly, that this will be a broad view of 1914, telling us what we already know, especially as the research, judging by the blurb you quote, seems only to involve the OH and 'printed histories', and there is no sign of major use of primary sources.

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  • 1 month later...

I am reading it at the moment. I was surprised reading the introduction where Rawson states, he did not consult thewar diaries:

'In my experience the early 1914 diaries are very limited in their scope at best, because there was little to learn from experience during the mobile early days of the war where every day was completely different. ... they only wrote the bare minimum. They did not expand into the detailed accounts, which are sometimes backed up by the maps and diagras we see after trench warfare has set it. The comprehensive War Diary really was the product of trench warfare when there was a need for reporting and regulations.'

Also of note is that Rawson does not discuss policies, personalities or casualty lists.

I shall return with my impressions when I finish reading.

Mark

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I am reading it at the moment. I was surprised reading the introduction where Rawson states, he did not consult thewar diaries:

Also of note is that Rawson does not discuss policies, personalities or casualty lists.

What does he fill the pages with, then?

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'In my experience the early 1914 diaries are very limited in their scope at best, because there was little to learn from experience during the mobile early days of the war where every day was completely different. ... they only wrote the bare minimum. They did not expand into the detailed accounts, which are sometimes backed up by the maps and diagras we see after trench warfare has set it. The comprehensive War Diary really was the product of trench warfare when there was a need for reporting and regulations.'

Quite a remarkable claim. Some of the war diary entries in 1914 run into thousands of words for a single day. Many unit war diaries include long reports on separate actions and battles that also run for thousands of words. More interestingly he appears to use the OH and other 'printed histories' as his primary material. Presumably some of the 'printed material' includes regimental histories. Most of these used the war diaries as their primary source material and some accounts they contain are almost verbatim reproductions of these diaries.

The narrative content of the 1914 war diaries runs in excess of 2 million words. MG

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From the above information my guess would be that "1914 Campaign" has probably been written in reaction to the mildly critical "Challenge of Battle" or Peter Hart's "Fire and Movement"; back to mowing down thousands of Germans at Mons and Le Cateau. Anyone who claims that using the unit war diaries would be counter productive has some other agenda, hopefully I will be proven wrong by Mark who is actually reading the book but until then won't fork out the money for another 1914 survey.
On the other hand "The Gunners of 1914" might be of interest? Looks like the maps came straight out of Farndale but that's an improvement over most books about the first three months. Mr. Hutton did write a decent book about the surrender at St. Quentin.

Dave

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You know we can't help ourselves! We shall have wait for Mark to finish it and give a proper review.

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It seems I've improperly addressed the Right Honourable Lord Hutton of Furness. Thank heavens I didn't trash his book, he might have called me a "------- disaster".

Dave

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Grumpy,

I think your tongue was firmly in cheek when you wrote post 12, but I'll bite anyway. Len Hutton's investiture was in 1956 so there is a photo (newsreel) showing the family coming out of Buckingham Palace - it lists his wife Dorothy and two sons named Richard and John, the only problem is that John looks to be a little too tall for someone born in 1955. Have a look for yourself - http://www.britishpathe.com/video/accolade-for-sir-len-aka-len-hutton-investiture/query/Leonard

Dave

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So the author is the chap who was, at one time, Defence Secretary?


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Yes, here is where my information on him came from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hutton,_Baron_Hutton_of_Furness I probably shouldn't have mentioned Hutton's book at all since we have since wandered away from the original post about Andrew Rawson's "British Expeditionary Force-1914 Campaign".

Dave

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too d....d erudite for me.

Every now and then the naughty little boy in this naughty little old man gets loose for a minute or two.

He's back in his cage now.

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I am sure you have all been waiting with baited breath for this and are happy you can take a deep breath now.

Well having read the two volumes of the Official History covering 1914, and a few sections of some of the Division Histories covering the 1914 Campaign, I feel I have read this book before, which is not surprising as it is based solely on said OH volumes and Division and Unit Histories. The Unit War Diaries were not consulted, because, as stated in the Introduction:

they only wrote the bare minimum. They did not expand into the detailed accounts, which are sometimes backed up by the maps and diagrams we see after trench warfare has set it. The comprehensive War Diary really was the product of trench warfare when there was a need for reporting and regulations.

Also consulted were the Battleground series of books, which Rawson said aided him to:

confirm, or in some cases contradict, the Official History

He does not however point out the contradictions nor the confirmations, would have been nice to know when they occurred.

Rawson does not expand on the politics, nor the interpersonal relationships between the various players involved in the Command of the BEF or the Allied Forces in France. Which is a shame, as I believe quite a lot of the Campaign is brought into focus when one considers the interaction between the Commanders, both political and military, especially in the case of French and Joffre, French and Smith-Dorrien, and nearly everyone who interacted with French.

Not included, which may be are not necessary, are details of the casualties suffered during the Battles and actions of the Campaign. VC winners are mentioned, as are a number of Officers in the various Battalions. There are few observational quotes by any of these people, because:

(t)he ones you often read have a similarly depressing theme of mud, blood and a desire to be somewhere else, and the ones with the bleakest outlook are usually chosen to set the soberest tone as the norm. The few quotes given are chosen for their eloquence in writing, their pride in the men’s determination and their dark humour.

I can’t agree with this, having read a few books recently on the 1914 Campaign, including Peter Hart’s Fire and Movement, and Richard Holmes’ Riding the Retreat: Mons to the Marne 1914 Revisited, I believe these insights can and do add to the history, but it does take research to find them, often one needs to read a diary.

This volume then is in my opinion a good entry summary to the 1914 Campaign. The information is there but no sources are given, one cannot tell from whence the story has come, it is not possible to go back and verify the information. What footnotes there are, are generally used to clarify which Brigade/Division, etc. a Battalion was part of. This is to me a populist history, without the population, and has been prepared mainly for the Family Historian who wants general information regarding where there relative was.

The main selling point that Rawson is pushing in the Introduction is the inclusion of 60 new maps to help explain the campaign. While helpful when referring to the detail of specific actions or battles, I felt that an overall map showing a picture of location within the area of activity was needed, also I was a little lost regarding orientation at times as none of the maps have a legend or North indicator.

The volume is let down in a number of areas, and whether they are the fault of Rawson or Pen & Sword, to me is not relevant:

  1. Both author and publisher are let down by the quality of proof reading, names are spelt incorrectly at one point then correctly the next, sentence structure is bad.
  2. The index is not worth the paper it is printed on:
    1. There is no reference in the index to any Artillery units of whatever size
    2. There is regular mention in the text of the ‘Flying Corps’ but only one in the Index and that to the ‘Royal Flying Corps’

People reading this volume as a Family History source could look in the Index for a reference to the Unit they are looking for only to believe there is no mention of it.

If I were to be giving marks out of 10 for this volume I would be giving it 2. But, maybe I could write just such a book, ignore all the primary sources and read as many of the official histories, get it published and say, in essence the primary sources aren’t detailed enough or the like.

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Thank you BPSM.I have read, enjoyed and reviewed Pete Hart's Fire and Movement: The British Expeditionary Force and the Campaign of 1914, read and enjoyed Spencer Jones's (Ed) Stemming the Tide: Officers and Leadership in the Britsih Expeditionary Force 1914, and with Gilbert's The Challenge of Battle: The Real Story of the British Army in 1914 in the yet to read pile (although I am not sure Gilbert can lay claim to the 'real story') your review has convinced me to pass on this one. Much appreciated.

Cheers

Chris

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I was surprised reading the introduction where Rawson states, he did not consult thewar diaries:

'In my experience the early 1914 diaries are very limited in their scope at best, because there was little to learn from experience during the mobile early days of the war where every day was completely different. ...

Mark

I haven't read the book, so I'm confining my comments to the extract quoted. It is very presumptive to assert that any paucity of content was because "there was little to learn from experience during the mobile" period of warfare. At that stage they didn't know what form the continuing war would take and surely there was a great deal that could be learnt from the first experiences of British forces in a war against a modern industrialised European opponent.

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I was a little lost regarding orientation at times as none of the maps have a legend or North indicator. !

Year One Geography, and also Boy Scouts:

"Every map, to be a map, will have:

a title

a North pointer or orientating mark

a scale

a legend."

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Thanks very much for the review, in other words the book is an extended Wikipedia entry (without the footnotes). I don't know anything about Mr. Rawson except that he has authored numerous books on military history, including four or five on the Great War (two on Loos for Battleground Europe). The one title that I have read (Hill 70) refers to the brigade and battalion war diaries constantly so it's hard to understand why he wouldn't have used them for a book about the 1914 campaign.
Thanks again for the very informative review.

Dave

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