Review: The Germans on the Somme (Bilton)

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The Germans on the Somme: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives.

This work brings the Anglophone reader as close to the German experience of the Battle of the Somme as possible without its being a translation

The book is heavily illustrated throughout with nearly all unique photographs (often snapshots taken by German soldiers), which are accompanied by informative captions. Some are postcards, and at least one image appears to have been manipulated for propaganda purposes: the purported “cordial relations” with the occupied French, which the posing of German soldiers with a group of frankly frightened children is meant to illustrate, falls a little flat. It was unrealistic for Germany to expect its soldiers to look good at “baby-kissing,” but the men at the front wanted to feel justification for the role they were playing in prosecuting a dubiously “defensive” war.

A quantity of photographic funeral memorial cards are also reproduced, which give human identity to faces which elsewhere in English-language Great War literature are designated generically as “Fritz” or “Jerry.” These were real people, who left behind real families who suffered from their absence and mourned their loss.

The text is organized chronologically, and is supplemented by an abbreviated timeline of Somme battlefield events. There is a brief bibliography, but no index.

This is a good quality paperback publication that will bring value to any Great War library.

 

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