I’ve been banging my drum about this series of books for a while now and I’m not ashamed to say the song remains the same in this review. Happily the publishers have firmly jumped into my favourite territory with a selection of images from the Great War. There are echoes of the book of U-Boat pix we reviewed recently in that these photographs predominantly come from a single album. The owner looks out at us, resplendent with some quality facial hair and a proud expression. We do not know his name or his fate, which is something of a shame, but it makes him an everyman for the German army, so perhaps that is a good thing when we think of how many like him who died.
So what about the snaps? Well, they are fantastic. The quality and the range is stunning. Once again, though, the key to all this are the captions and Alistair Smith has done a fantastic job of explaining the minutiae of German uniforms and equipment and the places the soldiers found themselves in.
There was a grim fascination with photographing the dead during the Great War and they are with us in the pages of this book as they were everywhere on the Western Front. In our recent review of Vimy, Pierre Berton described men using exposed bones to hang their clothes and we’ve all heard those tales of men shaking the hands of dead men sticking out of trench walls as they passed by. The dead were omnipresent and they are still there now in their hundreds of thousands, lost and found.
A fascinating chapter on aviation shows aircraft wrecks of German and Allied types with the usual mix of bemused people standing round varied piles of recognisable machines or complete heaps of twisted junk. We also see tanks and artillery pieces, villages and trench life and just about the whole panoply of the war we presume to know.
The final pictures are a selection from the US Library of Congress and make for an interesting close to a wonderful book. I hope P&S will publish more Great War books in this series, but should they do so they will have to go some way to meet the standard of this gem.
It might be you are just setting out on the Great War trail and if so, then this is a really great place to start because so much of what we read concentrates on the British experience. If you go deeper into the German experience you will come into the orbit of Jack Sheldon, but until then, books like this are a grand slice of nursery slope. If you are a veteran then this will just reinforce why you were here in the first place. It is a winner all round.
IMAGES OF WAR
CARNAGE The German Front In World War One
Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives by Alistair Smith
Published in paperback by Pen & Sword Military £12.99
ISBN: 978 1 84884 682 1