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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

G.H.Q, Montreuil-sur-Mer
reviewed by Ron Drees

G.H.Q, Montreuil-sur-Mer
by Sir Frank Fox
Hardpress Publishing Company, 2016,(reprint)

. . . looking back, reflecting on all the woeful results that might have sprung from a careless blunder, from too great haste, from too deliberate hesitation, from over fear or over confidence, it is to be seen how fantastic, how abnormal was the life centred in that little walled town of Montreuil, the focus of a spider's web of wires, at one end of which were the soldiers in their trenches, at the other the workers of the world at their benches.
Frank Fox, intro.

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This is a reprinted account about the Great War written by a veteran, Sir Frank Fox, then a 42-year-old Australian amputee with a crippled left arm and profound deafness. Nonetheless, he earned an OBE (Military) and was mentioned in dispatches for his service in QMG's (Quarter Master General) Directorate at G. H. Q. (General Headquarters), the focus of this book. Combat is mentioned in only a general way and Haig barely at all but with reverence. Instead, Fox is concerned with the work of G.H.Q., its environment, logistical decisions and support of the Allies, horse rations, German thinking and decisions, and thoughts upon other aspects of the war. There are also statistics on munitions usage, train movements, and horses. This book is for those versed in the war, not the neophyte.

Montreuil-sur-Mer is a small French town. The only maps in the book—and the only ones needed—locate the town in far western France, about 80 miles from France's Atlantic coast. A peaceful place, it was chosen as the BEF HQ partially because it is not near anything, giving it a constructive isolation from the world. This allowed the staff to concentrate wholly on their work, and as he stressed, frequently there were no other activities possible because of work demands.

Written in what is almost a Victorian style, the text can be a bit of a slog, which at times doesn't even sound like the Great War, yet there are passages that give new insight to the support of the troops. Interestingly, for an Englishman, Fox makes the astounding statement that "…the actual final blow to the Germans' hopes was delivered when the United States of America declared war." Elsewhere in that chapter, Fox is quite complimentary about American troops.

General Haig Completes Inspection of the Troops at G.H.Q.

G.H.Q, Montreuil-sur-Mer is recommend reading for background information about the logistics and planning of the war effort that is generally not discussed elsewhere—but have patience with its wordiness. The details discussed here are useful and lead to a better understanding of the conduct of the Great War.

Ron Drees


  1. I don't know why Fox's statement that, "the actual final blow to the Germans' hopes was delivered when the United States of America declared war"is regarded as startling by the reviewer. French, British and German High Commands had all informed their respective governments that they could not prosecute the war after 1919. I believe the USA mobilised 5 million and warned off a further 7 million to be available.

    When Kitchener addressed the British Government on the outbreak of war that the war would be won by "the country that can find the last million men" he was quite right, and the entry of the USA meant that the last million men were on the way. The Germans knew they could not win, hence the last mad gamble of the Kaiserschlacht of Spring 1918.

    1. I think he was surprised because so many British sources downplay the US role.

  2. Yes, I should have explained the reason for my surprise but as CJ stated, the US role has been downplayed so much by the British that Fox's statement is a surprise. Ron Drees