Reviews:guides to WW1 military research

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hiepval memorial: 303 Coventry men day by day
by Trevor Harkin
published by War Memorial Park Publications, 2011
ISBN 978 0 95637 277 2
cover price - not stated
softback, 218pp. Illustrated
reviewed by Chris Baker.

Trevor Harkin is one of the unsung heroes of military and local history research, for he works tirelessly on the stories of the men and the city of Coventry and has produced several excellent reference works.

The latest concentrates on the 330 soldiers who came from the city or had a connection with it, who died on the Somme, have no known grave and are commemorated at the Thiepval Memorial. The dreadful toll begins on 1 July 1916 and ends with the last of these men, Pte George Thomas Henson, who died on 22 November 1917. Each man is described with some personal details, which inevitably vary in volume depending on the survival of information. This includes employers rolls of honour and newspaper reports and obituaries - not the kind of information yet available via the popular family history services and perhaps not likely to be. The author blends the men's stories in with information regarding the battles and circumstances in which they died, and begins the book with some background on Coventry in the Great war. For anyone related to one of these soldiers, or who has an interest in Coventry or the Royal Warwickshire Regiment that enlisted so heavily there, this is a fine addition to your library.



World War 1 Fact Book
by Willian Van der Kloot
published by Amberley Publishing, 2010
ISBN 978 1 84868 447 8
cover price - £12.99
softback, 127pp
reviewed by Chris Baker.

This is a good little book and well worth seeing, even if you a hardened veteran of Great War research. William Van de Kloot has assembled a collection of facts and statistics that make for most interesting reading. Inevitably a relatively a short book can not cover every possible area of numeric information about the war, but this manages to touch on many aspects of manpower munitions, tactics and casualties. Did you know, for example, that some 130 million pairs of socks were delivered to the British Army alone? The sheer scale and complexity of total war is illustrated very well. The presentation of these facts is in the form of simple graphs with some explanatory text, but also with a great many photographs and maps. Not included in the page count above is an extra central section of plates, many being portraits of the key players of the combattant nations. Only available in softback, it is very nicely produced and at a sensible cover price.


Great War Lives : a guide for family historians
by Paul Reed
published by Pen & Sword Family History, December 2010
ISBN 978 1 844884 324 0
cover price - £19.99
hardback, 208pp plus further reading list and index, illustrated
reviewed by Chris Baker.

Paul Reed will be well known to many visitors to this website from his excellent tour guides "Walking the Somme" and "Walking Arras" and from his regular TV work on both First and Second World War subjects. In "Great War Lives" he brings together twelve stories of individuals who served in the British forces in 1914-1918 and the methods by which he researched them.

"Great War Lives" does not offer a step-by-step or in-depth guide to researching a serviceman but the advice is excellent, up to date and will inspire many people to have a try. It is refreshing to see that the author - who has long had an important presence on websites and discussion forums - is not afraid to promote the use of the internet as a research medium, although he wisely recommends that the information found should usually be treated with some caution. It is also gratifying to see "The Long, Long Trail" quoted as one of the recommended sites.

The twelve personal stories are well chosen and cover much ground: there are soldiers, marines and airmen; officers and rankers; the dead and the survivors. As such their stories require a researcher to draw upon a wide variety of sources of information, and Paul Reed explains at the end of each chapter what sources were needed and where they can be found. He also demonstrates that there is more to unearth even for men whose stories have been told before, such as the tunneller William Hackett VC and the poet Ivor Gurney. I always enjoy reading tales of men who served and thoroughly enjoyed the book.

For anyone might be encouraged to examine a soldier's military career, "Great War Lives" provides valuable advice, but it is more than that and offers an absorbing insight into men's lives, troubles, triumphs and, in some cases, their deaths in action.