Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The new North Riding flag

The Yorkshire flag - which flag will represent the North Riding?
And so to Hovingham, to help select the shortlist for a new flag for the North Riding of Yorkshire. Five judges will select six flags from all those submitted; the public will then be given a chance to vote for the one they prefer. Voting opens on 6th March.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

France's living unknown soldier

On 1 February 1918, a soldier was supposed to have been found wandering around the railway station of Lyon-Brotteaux. He had lost his memory, and had no papers on him that would provide his identity. When questioned, he seemed to say his name was Anthelme Mangin, and that he lived on the Rue Sélastras, in the spa town of Vichy. But there was no such street, and the man was confined in the asylum at Clermont-Ferrand.
Seeking to identify his patient, the director of the asylum placed the man's photo in the Petit Parisien newspaper of 10 January 1920 (his photo is on the bottom right of the six). After the end of the war, some 300,000 men remained officially 'missing', so it is unsurprising that many, desperate for news of their loved ones, claimed 'Mangin' as a member of their family. A couple named Manzenc from Rodez were so definite in their identification of the unknown man as their son Albert, reported missing at Tahure (Marne) during the Champagne Offensive of October 1915, that the man was transferred to the asylum at Rodez (Aveyron).

Once there, the departmental prefect made his own enquiries, and came to the conclusion that the man was not Albert Manzenc after all (on 16 July 1921, Manzenc was officially declared as having been killed in action). In February 1922, the man's photo was circulated to every town hall in the country, and over 300 families responded.

Monjoin, from
After thirteen long years, the most promising response was from a family named Monjoin, who lived at Saint-Maur-sur-Indre (Indre), who identified the unknown man as their son Octave Monjoin, who had never returned from captivity in Germany. When taken to Saint-Maur, the man appeared to recognise the village and the road to his parents' house. A tribunal of 16 November 1937 concluded that the man was indeed Monjoin. The decision was confirmed by the appeal court at Montpellier two years later, although one woman, Mme Lucie Lemay, remained convinced that the man was her husband Emile.

Monjoin had been wounded and captured near Blâmont (Doubs) on or around 14/15 August 1914, serving with 5th Company of 95th Infantry. After treatment in Karlsruhe for a broken leg, he spent time in the prisoner-of-war camps at Rastatt, Nasburg, Darmstadt and Wachta. He developed worrying symptoms whilst in captivity; diagnosed as suffering from an extreme form of dementia, the Germans decided to repatriate him, but on 31 January 1918, he disappeared from a convoy returning to Lyon via Switzerland. (In fact, he had not disappeared, as legend would have it, to be found wandering at the railway station - a roll call had been taken when the convoy reached the hospital at Bron, outside Lyon; Monjoin did not answer his name, but then was recorded as an extra, nameless, man. It was a simple clerical error.)

The man was released from the asylum at Rodez to the care of his family. But in 1938, his father and brother were both killed in an accident. Having no-one to care for him, Monjoin was recommitted, this time to St Anne's hospital in Paris. He would remain there for the rest of his life. He died on 10 September 1942, and was placed in an unmarked grave. In 1948, his body was exhumed and reburied in Saint-Maur.

Monjoin's story served as the basis of a character in the play Le voyageur sans bagages by Jean Anouilh, which opened in Paris in 1937. More recently, in 2002, the historian Jean-Yves Le Naour published Le soldat inconnu vivant (Paris, Pluriel, ISBN 9782012794641; English edition here). This has now been turned into a BD, released this month, with art by Mauro Lirussi (Paris, Roymodus, ISBN 9782363630094).

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The battle of Verdun

On today's date, 21st February, in 1916, the battle of Verdun began. At 0715 on a cold, snowy day, an exceptionally heavy bombardment began to fall on French position to the north-east of the town.

One of the first German attacks fell on a brigade of chasseurs à pied commanded by Colonel Emile Driant, in positions in the Bois des Caures. On the night of the 21st, Driant was doing the rounds of his battered positions. He reached the position known as Grand'Garde no.2, where Lieutenant Auguste Robin (the CO of 6th Company, 59th Chasseurs) was in command, and where the Germans were on two sides of the French position. '"What can I do here, with my eighty men?" asked Robin. The Colonel gave him a long look, as if he was weighing the lieutenant's soul and wondering how much he could explain to such a young officer. "My poor Robin, the orders are to stay here ..." Robin understood and nodded.'

On the evening of the 24th, 'coming back in ones and twos to fall in at Vacherauville - from 56th Battalion, Captain Vincent, wounded twice, who would later find a glorious death on another field, Captain Hamel, Captain Berveiller, Lieutenant Raux, Sous-Lieutenant Grasset with about sixty chasseurs. From the 59th, Lieutenant Simon, Sous-Lieutenants Leroy and Malavault with fifty chasseurs. That's all that was left of 1,200 men.'

Within days of the German attack, General Philippe Pétain was given the command of the sector. One of his first acts was to secure his logistics by establishing a road and rail route through which he could move reinforcements and supplies in, whilst sending casualties and resting soldiers out. The rapid rotation of divisions in and out kept the French forces relatively fresh, and better able to withstand the successive German assaults. By the time the German offensive finally wound down in July, some 70% of the French Army had served at Verdun in one capacity or another.

It was not a battle of grand attacks, of the kind seen in pre-war manoeuvres, but soon degenerated into intensive small scale assaults. Behind the French front lines as the first German attack began, all was confusion. Corporal Marquot and his comrades of 156th Infantry were on the march: 'We left Charmes, marched for a day and a night to arrive at Côte du Poivre at dawn on the 25th. They said, "We don't know where the enemy is, just go forward until you meet him, then dig in."'

Verdun, thought Jacques Meyer, a lieutenant in 329th Infantry, 'was most often a war of abandoned men, a few men around a leader, a junior officer, an NCO, even a simple soldier whom circumstances had shown capable of leadership. Sometimes it was a single man reduced to leading himself. Handfuls of men or individuals, forced to act, to take the initiative of defence, or withdrawal. Failures of nerve - and there were some - generally occurred in bigger units, which were not always the most hardened but were the most shocked by the unexpectedness of the disaster. Decisive and courageous acts were mainly individual, leaving most of them unknown.'

Meyer concluded, 'When a man went up there, he felt a dim fear. When he left he no longer was afraid of being afraid. When he left for good, he carried a sense of pride away in his memory.' But later wrote, 'War, old chap, you know very well what it was like, but when we are dead, who will know anything about it? The war, old chap, it was our hidden, buried youth.'

The place of Verdun in French history ensures that it should play a central place in the centenary celebrations. The Michelin guide to the battlefield is still available here. The local tourist office suggests places to see for families with young children here, and a guided bicycle tour here. A Pass Lorraine gives you reduced price entry into a number of key sites, including the Mémoiral de Verdun museum at Fleury.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Great War tourist trails on the Nord - Pas-de-Calais

The Nord - Pas-de-Calais has produced a pdf guide to Great War sites in the region that includes four themed trails. The first follows the front line, starting with a little cross-frontier diversion to Ypres, then Fromelles - Loos - Notre-Dame-de-Lorette - Vimy - Arras - Bullecourt - Flesquières - Hébuterne and finishing at Ayette Indian and Chinese Cemetery.

The second covers both the war of movement of the first few months of the war and the subsequent German occupation. It starts in Comines, before going through Lille, down to Cambrai, then back north, finishing at the French war cemetery at Assevent, near Maubeuge.

The third covers the rear areas and the Channel coast. It starts at the monument to the Dover Patrol at Sangatte, outside Calais, before heading southwards Wimereux - Terlincthun - Boulogne - Etaples and finishing at Haig's statue in Montreuil-sur-Mer.

The final tour covers the reconstruction of the areas devastated by the war. Unsurprisingly, it covers much of the same ground as the first, but with a larger emphasis on rebuilt towns and post-war cemeteries. Starting in Méteren, it visits, amongst other places Bailleul, Lens, Arras and Cambrai, finishing in Tourcoing.

The website version links to information (in French) about each and every site on all four tours. Unlike the shorter Artois tour, there is no time recommendations - you will obviously want to go at your own pace - but there's enough here to keep everyone amused for a good week, if not longer.

Photo: the Canadian memorial at Vimy, from wikipedia

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Great War touring guide for the Artois battlefields

The tourism authorities of the Nord - Pas-de-Calais region have published a pdf guide for a bicycle tour around Great War sites in Artois, starting at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, then on to Souchez (including the CWGC Cabaret-Rouge cemetery) - Givenchy-en-Gohelle (including Vimy) - Neuville-Saint-Vaast (including the German Maison Blanche cemetery and the French cemetery at La Targette) - Maroeuil - Mont-Saint-Eloi - Carency and so back to ND de Lorette. A length of 29.5km, which, it says, you can get round in three hours - which doesn't seem long if you are going to stop and have a good look at all there is to see in this small area.

Photo: French bombardment of German positions, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. Source: Bundesarchiv

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Great War Centenary news from France 3: a web portal

A new French government portal, collecting together all the Centenary events in France, has just been put on the web, with the object of publicising national and local initiatives, and to share information and experiences for potential organisers of events.

One section allows departmental archives to display some of their Great War treasures. 'Send me some 'Flea-Killer' soap,' pleads one soldier from the Lot-et-Garonne, 'I'm being eaten alive.'

The Nord archives contributes the last letter of four men - Sylvère Verhulst, Georges Maertens, Ernest Deconninck and Eugène Jacquet - belonging to the Jacquet intelligence network before they were shot at Lille on 22 September 1915: 'we die proudly as good Frenchmen, as a brave Belgian - on our feet, no blindfold, hands unbound. ... Vive la République! Vive la France!'

Photo: the memorial in Lille to those shot by the Germans, on the Square Daubenton, from an old postcard. The statue was unveiled in 1929; it was demolished by the Germans in 1940, then rebuilt in 1960. The fifth figure, on the ground, represents Léon Trulin, who was eighteen years old when he was shot on 8 November 1915.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Great War Centenary news from France 2: strangers in Calais

Amongst the many projects set up connected with the forthcoming centenary is a searchable database of all those hatched, matched and dispatched at Calais between 1914 and 1922, based upon the official registers held by the City Archives. It includes not just the native Calaisiens and Calaisiennes, but also Belgian, British and even German refugees and soldiers (not to mention a smattering of people from other countries from Portugal to Japan).

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Great War Centenary news from France

One element of the Great War centenary celebrations in France will be a six-episode dramatisation of Maurice Genevoix's Ceux de 14 on channel France 3. The producers are Chantal and Jean-Luc Michaux; casting is taking place at the moment, and filming will begin in April.

Maurice Genevoix served as an officer with 106th Infantry in the battle of the Marne, and in the Eparges, where he was wounded in 1915. His wounds were of such severity that he lost the use of a hand, and after a seven-months' convalescence, was discharged from the Army.

Following his discharge, he produced a series of five fictional works which drew heavily on his own experiences: Sous Verdun (1916), Nuits de Guerre (1916), Au seuil des guitounes (1918), La Boue (1921) and Les Éparges (1921), known collectively under the title Ceux de 14 (ie The Men of 1914).

In his critical bibliography of Great War memoirs, Témoins (Paris, Les Etincelles, 1929), Jean Norton Cru (pp.142-54) accorded Genevoix the highest praise, calling the tetrology 'incomparable' for its honesty and accuracy in describing the front-line soldier's experience (which, for Cru, puts Genevoix miles ahead of Barbusse's Le Feu). Unfortunately, unlike Barbusse, Ceux de 14 does not appear to have been translated into English.

Edit: Bernard Puchulu has produced some wonderful work for a new illustrated edition of Ceux de 14 here. And while you're there, check out the illustrations for Exupery's Vol de Nuit.

East Riding flag

The Yorkshire flag - what will replace it in the East Riding?
And so to Hull to help select the shortlist for the competition to select a new flag for the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Six designs will be selected from the entrants by a panel of judges that includes representatives from the East Riding Society, the Flag Institute, Beverley Civic Society and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Edit: just returned from Hull, shortlist duly selected. There were some very interesting and striking designs, using lots of flair and imagination. We selected the six best, and the voting will be launched on BBC Radio Humberside on Monday 25th February, so that everyone can have their say.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A Parisian statue vandalised

Info France Bleu reports that a statue commemorating the Russian Expeditionary Force that fought on the Western Front, unveiled in 2011 by Vladimir Putin and then French Prime Minister François Fillon, has been vandalised by supporters of the controversial rock group Pussy Riot.

The statue, in the Place du Canada, near the Pont des Invalides, in Paris, depicts a Russian cavalryman and his horse. Twenty thousand Russians served in France between 1916 and 1918; five thousand lost their lives. A cemetery containing the bodies of over nine hundred of them was created at Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand (Marne), and this remains the focus of commemorative events.

The first to be killed in 1914?

An article in the newspaper Est-Republicain claims that the unfortunate Corporal Jules Peugeot (44th Infantry, shown left) was not the first Frenchman to be killed during the First World War - because he was killed on 2 August, before war was declared! The dubious honour of the first Frenchman to be killed in the war proper, according to new research, seems to have been Soldier Georges Bigard (165th Infantry), killed in a bombardment outside Montmédy at 0340 on 4 August.

Pollution on northern French battlefields

The newspapers La Croix and La Voix du Nord report that tests carried out on ground water in the Nord - Pas-de-Calais have revealed unusually high concentrations of ammonium perchlorate. The chemical is used in a number of applications connected with pyrotechnics and explosives.

The fighting on the Western Front is being fingered as the root cause, but as the above map, from the newspaper La Voix du Nord, seems to show, the highest concentrations (the red) do not systematically follow the path of the front line. It may be blasting associated with the mining industry that may be at least partly to blame.

Shot at dawn

The second volume on French soldiers executed during the First World War by André Bach, has just been published by Editions Vendémiaire, Paris. ISBN 978-2-36358-048-1, 26 Euros.

The first volume, published by Tallandier in 2003, concentrated on 1914 and early 1915; the new work considers those executed during the critical and bloody battles of Artois and Champagne in 1915 and the battle of Verdun in 1916. Bach is the first author to be granted access to the dossiers of all the men who were shot by their own side, whether mutineers, deserters or with self-inflicted wounds.

The first volume is being republished in March 2013, also at 26 Euros

14-18 Magazine no.60 now out

The centrepiece of the latest issue of the excellent 14-18 Magazine is devoted to US forces on the Western Front in 1918 by General Jean-Cluade Laparra, but also includes an article on sous-lieutenant Baïdi Diallo, an African officer of Tirailleurs Sénégalais, by Michael Bourlet.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

They shall not pass

They shall not pass: the French Army on the Western Front 1914-1918 by Ian Sumner, translations by Margaret Sumner (Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2012; ISBN 9781848842090)

An account of the First World War as experienced by the ordinary French soldier and civilian, using first-hand accounts of their experiences, taken from letters, diaries and memoirs, most of which have never before appeared in English.

'I have read extensively on the British experience of the First World War, so seeking a different angle I became interested in the experiences of the French, especially Verdun: this book delivered! Ian Sumner evokes the experiences of the first clashes in 1914, through the mincer that was Verdun, to the fluidity of 1918 and eventual victory by painstakingly painting a vivid picture directly through the testimonies of those who fought. It threw up some good insights on how the French viewed and perceived their British allies which was a revelation. Well worth a read for anyone interested in the history and humanity of WW1.' D. Cooper on 5*

'This is the sort of book you pick up and wish you had found twenty years ago. The experience of the French Army during the Great War is still not very well covered in English and even less has been published on the individual thoughts and experiences of the roughly 8.5 million men who were eventually mobilized. For anyone who is interested in such things and has wished for years that someone would write about them, this one is for you. The author describes his aim in writing this work as being to tell the soldier’s story in his own words. The result is a series of wide ranging and lively contemporary accounts which take the reader through the thoughts and experiences of French soldiers and, to a lesser extent, civilians between August 1914 and the Armistice. The text is skilfully put together and moves seamlessly from one voice to another while illuminating the flow of events that affected Frenchmen and women during the Great War. The documents quoted provide trenchant and frequently amusing views on matters great and small, including life at the front and rear, the staff, food, gas, injury, fear, nursing, relations with the enemy, leave, the mutinies and – a frequently overlooked topic – the return to civilian life and its effect on wives and families. It is, of course, a book dependent upon translation and here I must congratulate Ian Sumner. Ian Sumner is to be applauded for this work, which is highly recommended.' Christina Holstein in Stand To! The Western Front Association

 'It is about time the stories of the millions of Frenchmen who fought in the First World War were told in an accessible English-language book, and thanks to this volume from Ian Sumner that is now the case for this book tells the history of the French Army and its battles mainly using countless translated snippets from the letters and journals of French soldiers never published before in English. An absolute must for any English-speaking students of the First World War looking to expand their understanding of the conflict beyond the narrow British view.' Bruce Officer on

'We very rarely receive books which provide us with something of a French view on the war, so this comprehensive and well researched work is doubly welcome. Much of the testimony here, published in English for the first time, comes from French soldiers serving on the Western Front. From their letters, diaries and memoirs the author constructs an honest and graphic account filled with the emotion and perception of war as seen by those who experienced it first hand. This pioneering work is to be greatly applauded and offers readers another perspective on the war. - Add it to your GW library.' Great War Magazine

'I read a lot of books and it’s fair to say that a lot of the stuff that passes my eyes leaves something to be desired. I have seen some books lately which are not only badly written, but poorly edited and leave me wondering how they ever get to print, let alone how anyone would pay their hard earned money for them. A saving grace is to be cherished and here is one of those occasions. Ian Sumner’s brilliant window onto the French army is a book I cannot recommend highly enough. Full of detail and mixed with vivid personal accounts, the whole package is thoroughly absorbing example of how a history book should be. There is stuff in here that kids should read at school as part of their history lessons. I would rate it that highly. I am happy to admit a strong affection for the French army of the Great War. Make no mistake, they were excellent troops who developed tactics on many levels that the British army was bound to follow. The horrors of early war naivety were quickly exchanged for the resolve and vigour to see France through to victory. There were mountains to climb, from the charnel house of Verdun to the nightmare of Chemin des Dames to much less appreciated successes on the Somme, the author takes us through the highs and lows of the French experience. The infamous so-called mutinies of 1917 are thoroughly examined and the eventual march to victory is given excellent coverage. The book covers everything from uniforms to wages and the ongoing miseries of poorly handled leave allowances and the political attitude of the citizen soldiers who served in their millions. An important fact the casual observer may wish to take with them is how the frontline soldiers loathed the epithet poilu – meaning hairy one, or bearded one; depending on your translation. They preferred bonhomme – lad; or the traditional le biffin derived from rag-and-bone-man. It may not surprise you that time gave them their own PBI – poor bloody infantry, as the PCDF – les pauvres cons du front – the poor sods at the front. There is a mass of similar detail in this wonderful book. French war cemeteries are majestic places to remember over a million dead. The great cathedrals of the Western Front at Notre Dame de Lorette and Douaumont spring immediately to mind. I have been to both along with the huge expanse of La Targette and they just blew me away. They are places I urge you to visit. Tommy Atkins will always be in my heart along with the Canucks, Diggers, Kiwis and other fine men of the British Empire who fought and died for us. But it is wrong to ignore the glory of France. “On les aura!” may have been the stuff of posters and patriotic dogma. But the cry of “Let’s get them!” means so much more in a country that gave so much. This book gives us a chance to understand just what that sacrifice amounts.' War History Online

'Sumner helps the reader to understand the mentality of the French soldier of 14-18 by presenting extracts of letters and diaries from dozens of soldiers. The book is not definitive in its scope and I would have liked to see more content on the daily life in the trenches. Yet with such a lack of English-language works on the subject, They Shall Not Pass is a welcome addition to any scholar of the Great War.' Johnathan Bracken on

'A good insight to the French experience of the war and is worth getting by anyone interested in the wider war apart from British front.' Tim on

'The cover was striking - and the idea of WWI book written from another side. Being an English speaker, I had not come across an English-language book of the French view. This is a soldiers' tale of the war and, while it does broadly follow a chronology, do not expect any behind the desk views or insights into the French high command. I am currently in the middle of Verdun - so book not finished yet. It is built up on extracts from soldiers' letters and remembrances. You meet the same guys, sometimes, several times only to find a few pages later that they were killed. There is a deep sense of sadness and you wonder how any of them survived the artillery barrages, the gas and killings. And you wonder what state they were in years later. There is warmth and good humour and a lot of little snippets and anecdotes. The links back to family through mail and parcels is very inteersting - lots of real human life. The soldiers come from all walks of French life - mainland and colonial. Most are ordinary punters but there are padres, intellectuals, anti-war guys and the ordinary punters. There are no extended soliloquays on war but sometimes a guy gives a simple description that sums up so much in a few simple words - the desccription of the looks on the faces of guys being shipped back out of Verdun to resting areas is so easy to visualise.' John Gerard Shadman on

'As a student of WW1 I found this a fine and interesting book on a subject which is not often seen printed in English. Very good.' Malcolm McGarrigle on

'I have to admit that I normally do not buy Pen & Sword books because they are consistently "capped" or limited to 250 pages per topic. In my personal opinion, many promising millitary history topics cannot adequately be captured in less than 350 pages. Ian Sumner has categorically disabused me of that notion, at least in this instance. His book They Shall Not Pass adds life to the French Poilu experience in World War One like no other english language book that I have come across. A quick glance at the sources he has mined to collect the stories found within They Shall Not Pass should suffice even the most critical professional historian. He has been writing about the French Army for some time and his indepth knowledge of the subject is clearly on display in this book. The book is organized with an introduction, maps, five chapters entitled 1.) To Berlin! 1914; 2.) Nibbling at the Enemy, 1915; 3.) They Shall Not Pass, 1916; 4.) Hold, 1917; and 5.) Victory!, 1918. Bibliography and Sources add another 16 pages. Each of the central narrative chapters are approximately 40 pages in length. Though it may be hard to believe, Sumner does justice to the French Army with chapters devoted to an entire year. He demonstrates an ability not only to choose the most relevent soldier stories, but he also explains changes in tactics, weapons, and the home front. Want to find out who the first and last French soldiers killed in WW1? Their stories are in this book. Want to read about the French perspective on the Mutinies? That story is in here also, in great detail. Highly recommended.' Writing Historian on

'While there have been many books published on the "Tommy," "Yank" and "Jerry" in World War I, comparatively few English-language books are available on their French counterparts, the lowly 'Poilu.' Fortunately, English author Ian Sumner has penned a number of excellent books on that very subject. His latest book - They Shall Not Pass - the French Army on the Western Front 1914-1918 - is a fascinating chronicle of the French soldier at war. They Shall Not Pass, a 2012 Pen & Sword Books release, utilizes letters, diary entries, memoirs, official reports and other material to paint a compelling portrait of the lot of French infantrymen in combat. Initial enthusiasm for war was replaced by the soul-crushing reality of horrid living conditions, inept leadership, endless combat with little hope of victory, etc. Incensed by the senseless slaughter, various units mutinied in 1917, forcing French commanders to make needed changes. Yet the French infantrymen never lost their grim determination, triumphing over the German invaders after four horrendous years of struggle. Having little knowledge of the subject, I found They Shall Not Pass a compelling, up-close-and-personal look at the valiant Frenchmen who fought - and often died - in the trenches. The first-person reminiscences which run throughout Sumner's book brought the grim world of the poilu to vivid life. They Shall Not Pass is a great read...and an eye-opener. Highly recommended.' Michael O'Connor on

'I found this book very helpful. in giving me an idea of the hardships that soldiers. no matter the time or place often go through. Very well researched and insightful. This book does much to dispel the ignorant stereo-type of "french cowardice".' Bianca on

'While this book is very detailed regarding the battles of WWI is is more interested in how the common Frenchman behaved as a soldier. I think they have been given short shrift over the years regarding the sacrifices and heroism they displayed during WWl and this author seems to have focussed his work on this issue. Just started it and like it. Not too detailed on specific battles - there are other books for that.'  Tom Kennedy on

'A brief history of the French experience in the European theater of World War One told primarily through excepts of primary source material: letters, journals, contemporary journalism, memoirs. Although as a history this is fairly short and limited in scope, Sumner has done a very, very good job of putting together a huge array of sources to make this an illuminating read.' Brendan Hodge on

'During the height of the Battle of Verdun the fire-eating French general Robert Nivelle defiantly declared ils ne passeront pas - they shall not pass. This symbolic phrase is the title of Ian Sumner's study on the French Army's struggle on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918. Other than a handful of specialist books there is, generally speaking, a dearth of material on this topic in English. Sumner allows the French soldier - the Poilu - the tell the story in their own words, from letters, diaries, newspaper reports and accounts written during or shortly after the events they describe. What makes the book particularly noteworthy is that the vast majority of this material has never been translated - until now. This makes Sumner's study a welcome addition which helps to explain the role Britain's ally played in defeating Germany. The conflict 'took a massive toll' on France, Sumner writes. From a pre-war population of 38 million, 8.5 million men were mobilised. Of these, 1.5 million were killed, 800,000 severely disabled and 3 million wounded. The butcher's daily bill was 890 French soldiers. The Great War for France was a pyrrhic victory, such was the devastation to its industry and manpower that France did not want to wage another war like it. The Poilu who celebrated victory in 1918 was not the same man who dreamed of advancing to Berlin four years earlier. Failed offensive after failed offensive saw to that, according to Sumner. But even during France's darkest hours during mutinies of 1917 there was the determination to resist and to hold the line. This is an interesting, well-written and informative book which would goes a long way to explaining why the French army mounted the staunch defence of its homeland that it did.' Mark McKay on

'Outstanding book. Must have for all WWI buffs and especially those studying the French Army.' Charles W. Clark jun on

'This is the first book I have ever read re. the French disposition in WW I. It chronicles the sacrifices, inept leadership, patriotism and hardships especially of the common soldier as trench warfare became the norm. It is both informational and moving interspersed with letters and stories of mostly common soldiers doing mundane and heroic actions with the backdrop of extreme suffering.' Bill on

'Using first hand accounts of the French "poilus" (soldiers), Ian Sumner has created a marvelous compendium which superbly enlightens the experience of the French Army during World War One! I found this book to be very informative and revelatory! Summer states in the introduction that, "On average, 890 French soldiers died each day of the war." This gives the reader an idea of the immense sacrifice made by the French nation's manhood. Their perceptions and emotions as well as that of civilians are discerned in this tome. I highly recommend this volume as well as Sumner's "Kings of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War"!' P.A. Panozzo on

'I found this book very helpful. in giving me an idea of the hardships that soldiers. no matter the time or place often go through. Very well researched and insightful. This book does much to dispel the ignorant stereo-type of "french cowardice"' Bianca on

'T’s Rating System: 0 to 5 with 0 the lowest score and 5 the highest and NA for not applicable:
Content 4, Coverage of topic 4, Adequacy of descriptions 3, Detail 5, Accuracy 5, References 5, Illustrations 3, Size 3, Detail 3, Captions 2, Sufficient Maps NA, Sufficient Drawings NA, Sufficient Photos 4, Product worth the price - Yes, 3. Good description of French soldiers at war. Not a detailed history of the campaign.
' Te Bada on

'Good book on the French Army during the First World War. My only complaint is that the book could have been twice as long and with much more detail.' Reginald N Buchanan on

'The cover was striking - and the idea of WWI book written from another side. Being an English speaker, I had not come across an English-language book of the French view. This is a soldiers' tale of the war and, while it does broadly follow a chronology, do not expect any behind the desk views or insights into the French high command. I am currently in the middle of Verdun - so book not finished yet. It is built up on extracts from soldiers' letters and remembrances. You meet the same guys, sometimes, several times only to find a few pages later that they were killed. There is a deep sense of sadness and you wonder how any of them survived the artillery barrages, the gas and killings. And you wonder what state they were in years later. There is warmth and good humour and a lot of little snippets and anecdotes. The links back to family through mail and parcels is very inteersting - lots of real human life. The soldiers come from all walks of French life - mainland and colonial. Most are ordinary punters but there are padres, intellectuals, anti-war guys and the ordinary punters. There are no extended soliloquays on war but sometimes a guy gives a simple description that sums up so much in a few simple words - the desccription of the looks on the faces of guys being shipped back out of Verdun to resting areas is so easy to visualise. Interesting now to get a German view! Probably only the uniforms are different...... ' John Gerard Shadman on

'Very well constructed history as told from first hand accounts of WW1 from the French point of view. Having read much of British actions in WW1this book has given me a fuller understanding of this conflict with its in depth description of the immense sacrifices made by France and how the ordinary people of this nation were effected by this terrible conflict.' Amazon Customer on

'First rate account of the French perspective of the first world war . Well presented and full of interesting anacdotes.' Gary Machin on


Anzac infantryman 1914-15

Anzac infantryman 1914-15: From New Guinea to Gallipoli (Warrior 155) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Graham Turner (Botley, Osprey, 2011; ISBN 9781849083287)

A detailed examination of the life of the Anzac soldier, using first-hand contemporary accounts, from both Australia and New Zealand, in the characteristic Osprey style.

'Ian Sumner has done it again, what a great book in that series. Peppered with real accounts and stories told by those who survived and those who didn't, this book gives us a genuinely poignant overview of how these young men and boys from Australia and New Zealand enlisted enthusiastically for a war that wasn't really theirs. And then came Gallipoli, its horrors, the trench life and the terrible loss of life with almost 80% casualties for the New Zealanders engaged in that campaign. A great read, an excellent mix of real life accounts, facts and figures and of course all the details about the uniforms and armament at the time.' Pilou on

The First Battle of the Marne 1914

The First Battle of the Marne 1914: the French 'miracle' halts the Germans (Campaign 221) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Graham Turner (Botley, Osprey, 2010; ISBN 9781846035029)

The First Battle of the Marne, 6-10 September 1914 - the battle that saved Paris and prevented the defeat of the Entente powers in the first few weeks of the First World War. Includes orders of battle and detailed descriptions of three key actions in the battle.

'Good value Osprey book with some excellent photos and illustrations and an okay text. Maps are good too!' Bluecap on

'This is a very interesting account of the campaign and battle, the detail is good and the maps are helpful.' Gareth Simon on

'Essential to a better understanding of Western Front history.' The Midwest Book Review on

'This 96-page book documents the origins of the campaign, followed by a brief chronology. Then the opposing commanders and the forces at their disposal are detailed ... Hobbyists will discover diorama ideas in this good book’s great mixture of period photographs and full-color illustrations. Especially notable is one of the plates by Graham Turner depicting one of the battle’s iconic moments when French reinforcements rushed to the front embarked from a column of 6,000 Parisian taxi cabs.' Toy Soldier & Model Figure (August 2011) on

'This is one of the best battlefield tour books I have ever read. It receives an A+ in all departments - historical background, then and now photos, maps, unit organizations, etc. ' Jefferson Morgan on

French poilu 1914-18

French poilu 1914-18 (Warrior 134) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Giuseppe Rava (Botley, Osprey, 2009; ISBN 9781846033322)

The French Army of the First World War, but concentrating on the experience of the ordinary soldier, rather than battles and strategy. The books contains numerous quotations from first-hand accounts, as well as numerous photographs and colour artwork in the characteristic Osprey style.

'[This book] tells how [the Poilu] were recruited, how they were trained, how they were clothed, the weapons that they used, and the tactics they used. It tells of life in the trenches, during battles and what happened to them once they were wounded. They were fighting for their nation as were all troops in that war, and thanks to author Sumner, we can get a good look at what it was like to be one of these men... A book that I found eminently readable and fascinating. I know you will as well.' Scott Van Aken on

'a good book to start with if your interested in the Poilu of the Great War' Daniel King on

German Air Forces 1914-18

German Air Forces 1914-18 (Elite 135) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Graham Sumner (Botley, Osprey, 2005; ISBN 184176924X)

The uniforms and organisation of the aviation forces of Germany during the First World War - those controlled by the Army and those controlled by the Navy - in the characteristic Osprey style.

'... it [gives] plenty of information about the subject and does not concentrate on fighter pilots only, there are interesting accounts of photo recce and ground attack missions. Very good colour plates of uniforms and equipment and a fine selection of photographs.' Alan Pearson on

'.. a fine little reference... This handy, compact volume offeres a wealth of information on all aspects of the Kaiser's aviation forces. Despite the short length, the coverage is excellent, including observation, recon, bomber, fighter, Zeppelin, balloon, flak, and supporting forces... Especially useful are typical tables of organization and equipment for Jastas, FFAs, Schlastas, and other units... this offering has about 50 [illustrations], mostly good to excellent quality. The detailed index is helpful, rounding out a truly worthwhile offering... four stars.' Barrett Tillman on forum

Del Prado Men at War

Allied Commanders of World War I, French Army of World War I, French African and Colonial Troops, The French Army: from Blitzkrieg to Victory, The French Army: From the Free French to the Army of Liberation, and The Indian Army 1914-47 (Madrid, del Prado, 2004)

Booklets issued with a model soldier. They were generally based on the respective Osprey Men-at-Arms title, but in the case of French African and Colonial Troops and Allied Commanders of World War I, were written specially for the series.

The following model soldiers were based on my titles-

4: Captain, French Armoured Troops, 1939
9: French Infantry Corporal, Verdun, 1916
23: Senegalese Skirmisher [sic], Gabon, 1940
38: Sergeant, 1er Regiment de Marche de Zouaves, 1914
62:  Dafadar, 1st Jodphur Lancers, 1918
64: General Joseph Joffre, France, 1914

British Commanders of World War II

British Commanders of World War II (Elite 98) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Malcolm McGregor (Botley, Osprey, 2003; ISBN 0841766690)

Profiles of the most important and influential British commanders of the Second World War, in the characteristic Osprey style.

'This book leaves the reader with an impression of the vastness, complexity, and diversity of the British war effort 1939-1945. While by no means comprehensive, it allows insights that can only be gained through studying personalities and leadership challenges. ... this title does as much as one could hope to accomplish what is frankly impossible: to cover the vast topic of British World War II leadership in a single slim volume.' Jonathan Lupton on

'Despise it not'

'Despise it not': a Hull man spies on the Kaiser's Germany by Ian Sumner (Beverley, Highgate, 2002; ISBN 1902645340)

The life and espionage career of Max Schulz, an Englishman of German parentage, who spied on the Kaiser's navy in the years leading up to the First World War. He was captured in Hamburg in 1911 and imprisoned in Fuhlsbüttel prison until 1918, when he simply walked out of the jail at the end of the war. Based on his own account of his time in prison, and on German archive material.

The Royal Navy 1939-45

The Royal Navy 1939-45 (Elite 79) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Alix Baker (Botley, Osprey, 2001; ISBN 1841761958)

The uniforms and organisation of the Senior Service during the Second World War, in the characteristic Osprey style.

'As with all Osprey books, well illustrated, good photos and enough information to make you want to know more about the subject. ... Helped me understand what my grandfather went through in the Arctic convoys etc having had no previous knowledge of the so called "Senior Service", being a "Pongo".' Baldrick399 on

The Indian Army 1914-1947

The Indian Army 1914-1947 (Elite 75) by Ian Sumner, artwork and plate commentaries by Mike Chappell (Botley, Osprey, 2001; ISBN 1841761966)

The uniforms and organisation of the Indian Army in the two world wars, in the characteristic Osprey style.

'A most useful summary' Military Modelling

'Comme pour la plupart des autres ouvrages de la collection Osprey, sujet traité par un auteur qui connaît son affaire, explications claires et illustrations bien choisies' Luc Vangansbeke 

British colours and standards 1747-1881

British colours and standards 1747-1881 1: cavalry (Elite 77) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Richard Hook (Botley, Osprey, 2001; ISBN 1841762008)

British colours and standards 1747-1881 2: infantry (Elite 81) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Richard Hook (Botley, Osprey, 2001; ISBN 1841762008)

The flags, colours and standards of the British Army between the regulations of 1747 and the reorganisations of 1881, in the characteristic Osprey style.

A wide variety of regiments are represented in the photographs, coloured artwork and line drawings, supported by extensive tables of battle honours. Both regular and volunteer regiments are covered. Much of the material is based on original research and presented here in print for the first time.

The author is the Librarian of the Flag Institute, the country's leading authority on vexillology.

The Wolds Wagoners

The Wolds Wagoners: the story of the Wagoners' Special Reserve by Ian Sumner (Sledmere, Sledmere Estate, 2000)

The Wolds Wagoners were created by Sir Mark Sykes of Sledmere in East Yorkshire, largely from the farm workers on his estates.They were amongst the first to be called to the colours in August 1914, and men from the unit served in France, Flanders, Italy, Salonika, Egypt and Mesopotamia.

A limited edition, published at the same time, contains the Wagoners' nominal roll of 1914.

The books were only ever available from Sledmere House, which maintains an excellent Wagoners' Museum.

The French Army 1939-45

The French Army 1939-45 1: The Army of 1939 and Vichy France (Men-at-Arms 315) by Ian Sumner and François Vauvillier, artwork by Mike Chappell (London, Osprey, 1998; ISBN 1855326663)

The French Army 1939-45 2: Free French, Fighting French and the Army of Liberation (Men-at-Arms 318) by Ian Sumner and François Vauvillier, artwork by Mike Chappell (London, Osprey, 1998; ISBN 1855327074)

The French Army of the Second World War, in the characteristic Osprey style.

'[Volume 1] follows the usual Osprey format of a general historical overview, followed by details of arms of service, equipment, insignia etc with a good selection of photos and, of course, their trademark colour plates for the uniforms, and is a valuable contribution to a neglected area of military history. Volume 2 covers the Free French, the Army of Africa's belated conversion and the reborn 'army of liberation' in Italy and France in 1944-5 and is warmly recommended too' Mulwharchar on

'Nice Osprey reference title. Should be required for wargaming 1940 invasion of France' Zachary Ward on

'I found the book in question very informative, I was unaware of the french forces during the period of time question, A must for person interested in the WW2 period of history' D.I. Gaver on

'La réputation des publications Osprey n'est plus à faire. LA qualité de la recherche et celle de l'illustration font de cette collection, une excellente base de travail pour le grand public. Et en plus, on est obligé de perfectionner son anglais!' Fougeray Andrée on

The French Army 1914-18

The French Army 1914-18 (Men-at-Arms 286) by Ian Sumner, artwork by Gerry Embleton (London, Osprey, 1995; ISBN 1855325160)

The uniforms and organisation of the French Army during the First World War, in the characteristic Osprey style.

'Pertinently written ... exactly what was, until now, lacking for English-speaking readers interested in the French Army. I heartily and definitely recommend it' François Vauvillier

'[The book] proves how much information could be fitted into the ... format by a really professional author.' Martin Windrow

'This book is a great source on all details about WWI french soldiers. It has plenty of (black and white) photos as well as the usual Osprey center color plates, with complete explanations at the end.' Frederico Kereki on

'This is a great book on a very neglected aspect of the Great War. Ian Sumner has made an outstanding contribution to the Anglophone history of the French Army 1914-1918, and this venerable member of the Osprey series has impeccable scholarly credentials. However, the strengths of the book are in its representation of the minutiae of uniform and organisation. These are connected to a fine selection of plates. However, for a more detailed account of the French Army's operations, and evocative first hand accounts, the author's excellent book They Shall Not Pass is recommended.' Withnail67 on

'Very complete historic information and excellent colour plates. As always, Osprey is a good chance to enjoy History. My favourite collection' Josito on

Holderness in old photographs

Holderness in old photographs by Ian and Margaret Sumner (Stroud, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995; ISBN 0750907630)

Historic photos of the towns and villages of Holderness in East Yorkshire, from Barmston in the north to Spurn Point in the south, and including Hedon, Hornsea and Withernsea.

Bridlington in old photographs

Bridlington in old photographs by Ian and Margaret Sumner (Stroud, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995; ISBN 0750907622)

Historic photos of the East Yorkshire seaside resort, from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s.

The Yorkshire Wolds in old photographs

The Yorkshire Wolds in old photographs by Ian and Margaret Sumner (Stroud, Alan Sutton, 1994; ISBN 0750907614)

Historic photographs of the Yorkshire Wolds, from Welton to Market Weighton, from Goodmanham to Bishop Wilton, from Driffield to Flamborough Head.

'This is a beautifully produced book, packed with photographs. ... The book is very well presented. The photographs are of an excellent quality and very well printed.' Around the Wolds

'If ever there was a Christmas present which would welcomed by every parent / grandparent on the Wolds, this is it.' Bob Williams, Driffield Advertiser 

'Hundreds of photographs with informative captions [present] an intimate record of the area and its people from the late 19th century to the eve of the Second World War' Yorkshire Gazette & Herald

Yeomanry of the East Riding

Yeomanry of the East Riding by Ian Sumner and Roy Wilson (Cherry Burton, Hutton Press, 1993; ISBN1872167470)

A photographic history of the East Riding Yeomanry (raised in 1902) and its predecessors of the Napoleonic Wars, using photographs held by the present day Queen's Own Yeomanry and by former members of the regiment.

'A very impressive publication' David Fletcher, Tank Museum, Bovington

'A super book' Military Modelling

'A must for all military history enthusiasts' Beverley Advertiser 

'Through civil wars, international wars and world wars it becomes obvious that the men of Yorkshire had a big part to play. This book is a great tribute to them.' Hull Daily Mail

Beverley as it was

Beverley as it was by Ian and Margaret Sumner (Nelson, Hendon Publishing, 1991; ISBN0868671453).

Historic photos of the East Yorkshire town of Beverley.

'... a readable and interesting potted history of the town' Hull Daily Mail

'... filled from cover to cover with photographs' Beverley Advertiser