Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Advance from Mons 1914: The Experiences of a German Infantry Officer

By Walter Bloem
Helion and Company, 2004, 1930 original issue
Henry G. Gole, Reviewer

August 1914

The human dimension of the Schlieffen Plan comes through most clearly in Walter Bloem's little-known memoir called The Advance From Mons: 1914. Bloem, a teacher in civilian life, provides an eyewitness account of the Schlieffen Plan in action from his perspective as a German infantry company commander at the very tip of one of the bold arrows staff officers draw on maps.

Painstaking plans and technical language are reduced to universally understood human conditions as fatigue becomes exhaustion in a series of combats later called the Battle of the Marne. Several themes emerge in this account of the opening days and weeks of the war, themes repeated in other accounts of both the war of movement that characterized the early stage of the war and the war in the trenches that was the experience of most participants from the winter of 1914 to the autumn of 1918.

Among the themes one sees repeatedly in Bloem and in the other firsthand accounts of the war are these:

• Fatigue, the discovery that war is work

• The affection that used to be called camaraderie—but has recently been christened "bonding"—that grows among men sharing hard and dangerous experiences

• A deep sense of responsibility on the part of leaders that finds its reciprocal in the trust soldiers invested in combat leaders but not in "the staff," that collection of bumblers despised by combat soldiers of all armies, who are always convinced that "the staff" is living well, out of touch with frontline reality, and more dangerous than the enemy

• Evidence the enemy is everywhere but one does not see him

• The shock of combat, usually characterized by brief violence and intense fire that are fickle in their choice of victims. (The duration of fire changes later in the war when artillery bombardment often lasts for hours and even, before a major assault, for days, but fickleness remains a constant.)

Bloem is wounded at the Marne and concludes his book with an account of his feelings as he is transported back to Germany on a hospital train. His thoughts—and this, too, is typical of the war literature—remain with the company rather than focusing on anticipated comfort in the bosom of friends and family at home.

Excerpted from: "The Great War: A Literary Perspective," by Henry G. Gole Downloadable HERE


  1. That sounds very useful and accessible.

  2. Thank you for this review. I look forward to reading the book. Cheers

  3. Well written review! I never could come to grips with this book. The author is a reserve officer in a Grenadier regiment. It was never made clear to me as to what time frame his cleaning could be dated to. His accounts are often used to justify British rifle fire success at the battle. This always leads to exaggeration. The translation copies then I have seen are done by a non-military person and therefore have jargon that does not fit. The translations are also much much shorter than the original German tax. Therefore there has been some significant editing. Nice account but definitely buyer beware.