On this, the 101st anniversary of the ending of the Somme Offensive, we return for one last look at the battleground.
Macdonald’s book is not a new one, and because many other authors quote from it, much that it contains will not seem unique.
The numerous direct quotations are credited in the margins of the book, rather than below block quotes, or in footnotes or end notes. The usual kinds of small maps are scattered throughout, and there are period and modern black-and-white photographs of landscapes, people and monuments, but many of them are quite dark, and thus of limited utility.There’s a bibliography, a lengthy list of acknowledgments, and a brief index.
Macdonald’s lyric, literary writing style makes the harsh facts go down smoothly. The inclusion of a variety of poems, marching songs, and hymns help to create a sense of intimate feeling that is not often found in histories of this period of the war.
A late addition to my Battle of the Somme collection (some 14 strong, now), but I enjoyed the change of tone, which made it worth the wait.
Granted, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find appropriate period cover art that features the author, because pictures of Rommel during the Great War are almost non-existent, but the decision that was taken to plaster the cover of a First World War book with Second World War images was an error. It would have been better to have stuck with stock First World War photos, even if best ones are morphing from iconic to trite during these centennial years.
Using notes he took at the time, supplemented by later personal discussions he had with colleagues and visits to the old battlefields, Rommel wrote this book during the interwar period. The anecdotes go into so much detail that it’s unlikely that anyone could have remembered all of this information on his own. But throughout the book Rommel is unsparing of himself when it comes to mistakes he made back then, because he intended this to be a textbook for future warriors. The writing is very readable, communicating a good “you-are-there” feeling.
Available in both hardcover and paperback reprints, Rommel’s accounts of the warfare he experienced on both fronts helps round out the Great War memoir genre. Highly recommended.
Germany’s Aims in the First World War.
This analysis of the truth about what Willy wanted (as formulated by his Imperial Chancellor) is only a fraction of its original size in the German language, but it’s still a massive effort. It examines in minute detail Germany’s evolving war aims from every possible angle, as the war progressed, and because of that approach it seems to be redundant, but invariably there will be different “Aha!” moments that make all those words worthwhile.
It’s slow going, because of the numerous names, dates and places involved in the structuring of the hegemony the German empire hoped to achieve, but Fischer is a good writer who knows how to bring all this information together into a readable whole. This book was written in the 1960s, but the reader can see the roots of the Second World War, and even the origin of much of the current political state of the world.
Post-war historical revisionism is always dangerous. Its proponents justify it on the basis of the popular belief that “history is written by the victors” (quote attributed to Winston Churchill), but it’s divisive, and it sets people up for future conflict. First World War revisionist history, as promulgated during the Wilhelmine Reich, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich, directly led to the Second World War, and it still makes up much of the teaching of history today. Fischer did everything he could to protect the world from revisionist thinking.
Many used copies of this book are available. It’s not for everybody (certainly not for the casual reader), but it’s a must for serious Great War researchers, who will recognize Fischer’s name in works by other authors, not all of whom agree with him.