THE GREAT WAR HANDBOOK – Review by Mark Barnes

A Guide for Family Historians & Students of the Great War
By Geoff Bridger
Published by Pen & Sword Family History
ISBN: 978 1 78346 176 9

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

This one is a cracker. We’ve seen other guides to the Great War and some of them have had the weight and girth to be the book to end all books. They knock spots off the internet with their special blend of depth and presentation and offer something tangible you can keep hold of rather than merely log in to as and when the need arises.

Size wise this is a diminutive offering compared to the others, but don’t let this fool you because the book is crammed with information and although it is obviously aimed at new visitors to the war it didn’t stop me finding lots of facts. As Corelli Barnett says in his forward; the book has done a great service for professional historians and newbies alike. While I hardly fall into either of these brackets I have learned a lot from it and will happily add this one to my library.

The book is crammed with useful statistics on casualties and use of materials. There are tables for the amount of war materiel and general supplies transported to France during the conflict. Thus 5,438,602 tons of fodder was delivered, while the British Army bought 129,204,000 pounds of biscuits – which equates to 58,606,549 kilograms! What we can’t learn is what all this cost. Perhaps, as a British tax payer, I don’t want to know – because I’m sure I’m still paying for it. 14 million pounds of tobacco products and 52 million pounds of margarine add to the menu. There is lots of this stuff and I love it.

But what about the people – the men and women who fought the war? There are sections detailing what life was like and how they lived, what they carried and how they died. Wars are not just about biscuits and margarine, they are about so much more and it’s all here. The author makes a sound point of dealing with a lot of the myths and tosh about the war which still creep into allegedly factual reports and histories. But is all done in a sober and gentle manner as all good guide books should.

If you don’t want the kind of books that will swamp your book case but need a quality guide to the war then you could do a lot worse than this one. It will prepare you for the next four years and might even get you thinking about making your own pilgrimage to the battlefields. I can be quite evangelical about this and really want you to get out there. Geoff Bridger has written a little gem here and I will be interested to see if the inevitable rivals to books of this size will come anywhere close to it’s quality.

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.