“Allies Are a Tiresome Lot: The British Army in Italy in the First World War” – Review by Chris Buckham

As part of their Wolverhampton Military Studies program, Helion has published this interesting study of the experiences and undertakings of the British Army deployed to Italy in support of the Italian Front. Dillon has provided a comprehensive overview of the unique challenges, social environs and environmental differences facing the British and how they adapted their doctrine and regulations accordingly.

The Italians were a late comer to the war and were not held in high regard by the British command; however, a number of setbacks had, by 1917 driven the Italian government to the brink of surrender. The Allies, specifically the British, under significant pressure on the Western front due to the war weariness of the French (having recently mutinied), the recent loss of Romania and the deteriorating situation in the East with Russia, could not afford to lose the Italians without incurring a substantial threat to the entire war effort. They therefore reluctantly agreed to pull badly needed troops from the Western Front to bolster the Italians.

The Italian Front for soldiers recently engaged in the horrors of the Western Front was, in many respects, a paradise. Combat was infrequent, distances to the enemy trenches were as far as over a kilometer in many cases, the weather was mild, the ground dry and the daily routine easy; boredom became as much a challenge as the enemy. These unique challenges form the basis of Dillon’s work. He divides his narrative into distinctive sections, each stand-alone and covering such areas as medical, crime and punishment, morale and working with the Italians. He also provides, at the outset, a synopsis of the Italian war effort both in terms of the fighting as well as the relations of the Italian Government with its Allies. He closes his book with the British/Italian engagement with the Austro-Hungarians during the final months of the war and the challenges associated with the tense post war regional relations and the need to bring the soldiers home.

As this is a relatively unknown aspect of the First World War Dillon’s work is significant in the light it sheds on the unique facets of this campaign. He writes with clarity and humor, relating conditions and situations not seen on other fronts. This is a serious work, however, well researched and presented. He draws on a plethora of primary source material to provide not only the strategic perspective but also the soldier’s narrative, weaving in many firsthand accounts into his writing.

Helion has maintained its high standard of quality with the production value of this work. Dillon’s book is a fascinating account of the strange world that the British soldiers, fresh from the Western Front, found themselves; the challenges that they faced and the methods that they used to adapt to this new environment.

Review by Chris Buckham for War History Online

Allies Are a Tiresome Lot: The British Army in Italy in the First World War
By John Dillon
Helion & Company
ISBN: 978-1-910777-32-9

Maj Chris Buckham is an active duty logistics officer in the RCAF who reviews books in his spare time. He maintains a blog of his reviews at: www.themilitaryreviewer.blogspot.com

Chris Buckham

Chris Buckham is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE