THE GREAT WAR FROM THE AIR THEN AND NOW – Review by Mark Barnes

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THE GREAT WAR FROM THE AIR THEN AND NOW
By Gail Ramsey
Published by Battle of Britain International Ltd
ISBN: 9 781870 067812

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

I’ve made separate reference to one of my favourite books, the classic Before Endeavours Fade by the late Rose Coombs. There are plenty of battlefield guides around and tons of stuff on the internet, but I like this book and always refer to it.

I’ve got to be honest and admit that most of it is familiar by now, anyway, but if I have an excuse to use it I’m quite happy.

New from the After the Battle stable is this book by Gail Ramsey, offering something a bit different in the way of emphasis from the bulk of the Great War output showering us at the moment.  It is a straightforward look at the battles from above; matching contemporary maps and aerial photographs with modern era Google imagery. It is an interesting format and there is much to look at.

We live in a time now where Linesman and the like allow us to walk the battlefield trail with original trench maps in the palm of our hands. It is an amazing thing to be able to do. What I like about this book is being able to relax and do something not dissimilar from the comparative safety of my sofa. With this book you can get a wider perspective of the battlefield before you set out to walk the ground. It helps get a lot of things into scale and should inspire you to pull your boots on and start out on the trail. I’m all in favour of that.

Aerial photography revolutionised warfare and the Western Front was a hothouse driven by the protagonists efforts to see what the enemy was doing while they in turn were doing their very best to stop them. We fete the aces of the war but their very purpose was to shoot down the real heroes – the reconnaissance planes moving slowly over the line recording all the details. The conflict reached its crescendo during the period known as Bloody April in 1917 when the Germans gained the upper hand over the RFC and created mayhem in the ranks of the photo recce crews and artillery spotters. Although the initiative was eventually wrested back the sacrifice of the men whose work fills this book should never be underestimated. It’s nice to see that the final element is to show the Flying Services memorial for the Missing at Arras.

Even if you can’t get to the battlefields of the Western Front as relatively easily as people like me, you can get a grasp of the scale of the conflict from a book such as this one. It’s easy on the eye and fits well within the range of Great War books already available from After the Battle. Other books on mapping the war and aerial photography are either out or in the pipeline from a variety of sources. So, this one could well form part of a serious body of work on the subject by the time we’re done with the years of centenary led overkill we’re about to face. Whatever happens, getting in early makes sense!