The Battle Book of Ypres – A Reference to Military Operations in the Ypres Salient 1914-18
by Beatrix Brice
Published: September 2014
Of the many hard-fought battles on the Western Front, Ypres stands out as an example of almost inhuman endeavour. For four long years it was the focal point of desperate fighting.
Officially there were four main battles in 1914, 1915, 1917 and 1918; these were more accurately peaks in a continuing struggle, for Ypres symbolised Belgian defiance, and the British continued to expend disproportionate resources on defending it. It never fell, although the Germans came close to its gates, and indeed its loss would have been a severe blow to morale. The Battle Book of Ypres, originally published in 1927 and now presented again as a special Centenary Edition, comprises a chronological account of the fighting in the Ypres Salient during the First World War, followed by a useful and unique alphabetical reference to the events in and around each hamlet, village or wood – names familiar to those who fought or followed the course of war all those years ago, names now once again lost in insignificance. The names given to each stage of the struggle by the Battle Nomenclature Committee are listed in the appendix. Also included is an index of formations and units, an annotated bibliography and a new Foreword by military historian Nigel Cave.
The Great War will always be synonymous with trench warfare and the mass slaughter inflicted by machine guns on the helpless but gallant infantry. There is a good reason for this view as the machine guns took a terrible toll, and the infantry’s experiences continue to fascinate and appal people today. But one aspect of the fighting that gets insufficient attention is the artillery. Histories of the major battles often reduce the role of the big guns to a few paragraphs, and this has created a seriously distorted impression of the reality of the fighting. A better balance needs to be struck, and that is the intention of John Hutton’s new book on the gunners of 1914. He tells the story of the war as the gunners themselves saw it, focusing on the first few months of warfare which were fundamental to the conduct of the campaign. The gunners may not have always shared the trench
experiences of the infantry in the front line, but they were in the thick of the action, and success or failure depended on them. The personal testimonies of those who served with and supported the guns provide a vital insight into the colossal tragedy and drama of the war from the artilleryman’s point of view.