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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

1914: Fight the Good Fight. . .
Reviewed by Bruce Sloan

1914: Fight the Good Fight, Britain, the Army & 
the Coming of the First World War

by Allan Mallinson
Bantam Press, 2013

The BEF on the Way to France, August 1914

Allan Mallinson spent 35 years in the British Army and is the author of Light Dragoons–a history of four regiments of British Cavalry (one of which he commanded), numerous historical novels, as well as the acclaimed The Making of the British Army. He has written on defense matters for the Times, and has regularly reviewed for the Times and the Spectator. He was a year at the Staff College and was posted to the Directorate of Military Operations, in the branch concerned with war in Europe.

With the author's access to prominent military figures and the War Office papers in the National Archives, this history is researched with exactitude. In my opinion, 1914 stands up very favorably with, and supplements, The Guns of August, with regard to the reasons, the treaties and the bumbling beginnings of the war.

Mallinson takes us through the preparations and mobilization of the BEF and General Sir John French's leadership through the retreat from Mons (which General Haig's I Corps doesn't manage to get to) to the battle at Le Cateau, the Race to the Sea, and to the Marne, where probably the last lance-to-lance cavalry battle was fought on 7 September at Le Montcel.

He relates incidents and decisions leading to and within World War I from Waterloo, the Zulu War and the disaster at Isandlwana (which General Smith-Dorian survived—he thinks because he had a blue jacket), the Boer War, and the Russo-Japanese War.

It was pleasing to find that the author, an infantryman and cavalryman, spends a fair amount of time on the decisions regarding the British Navy and the fledgling Royal Flying Corps and the usefulness of both. The friction between commanders, both British and French, is explored, with the resulting actions and repercussions. He pulls no punches when analyzing their decisions and motivations, and he addresses other analyses when he has subsequent or contrary evidence. (He is not overly friendly to Sir John French.)

All in all, an extremely good and enlightening read.

Bruce Sloan

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