First World War Books

The King's Men

The King's Men
Fallen in the Great War
The King's School, Gloucester

Bob Brunsdon

Published in the centenary year of the outbreak of the Great War, this book tells the stories of 'The King's Men', the thirty-five Old Boys of the Gloucester King's School who fell in the service of their country between 1914 and 1918. It also covers life at the school at the turn of the century and its use as a wartime hospital.

The King's Men fought in theatres of war across the globe and served in all three of the Armed Services. They include Captain Eric Harvey MC and Bar, brother of the celebrated poet Will Harvey and friend of composer Ivor Gurney, Captain Basil Bruton who was killed during the Gloucesters' valiant stand in Italy in 1917 and Cyril Searancke, a Royal Naval Lieutenant whose ship was sunk by a mine in the Mediterranean in 1915. Also included are Gloucester rugby players Guardsman Peter Roach, killed by a sniper on Christmas Day 1914, and fledgling RAF pilot Douglas Henderson, victim of a flying accident just after the war's end.

The book also includes detailed maps and geo-coordinates enabling visitors to the battlefields to see the places The King's Men fought and to pay their respects at the relevant cemeteries and memorials.

The author, a former pupil at the King's School and retired Gloucestershire police officer, now works as a military historian and battlefield guide. Following in the footsteps of heroes, he takes groups and individuals to the battlefields, including those of the Great War, to gain a true perspective of the conflicts that have shaped the world in which we live today.


The Great Promise

The Great Promise

Frederick L Coxen

On a spring day in 2009 Frederick L Coxen sat at his kitchen table going through the effects of his deceased paternal grandparents. Rummaging through the tattered box of relics he came across a small brown ledger; printed on the front cover of which was "Army Book 152 Correspondence Book (Field Service)". He had stumbled upon the First World War journal of Captain Frederick G Coxen, his late grandfather.

If that was not enough, tucked deeper in the box was a more recent letter written in 1945. The letter was addressed to no one in particular and was headed with the title "I Had A Dream The Other Night". The letter told of a pact made in the summer of 1914 between four young men to notify one another's family in the event that they became a fatality in the war — an un-kept promise that had haunted his grandfather, also named Frederick, to his dying day.

The Great Promise is thus the transition of a previously un-published primary source, the journal of Captain Frederick G Coxen, into a fascinating historical account of the first year of the First World War. It is also describes the personal quest of his grandson to fulfil his un-kept promise.

Captain Frederick G Coxen answered the called to the colours in August 1914 and serve in the Royal Field Artillery. He was among the first British soldiers to land in France at the beginning of the First World War and fought in every major engagement until being gassed in May 1915. His journal covers his first year at the front almost day by day; detailing his reports, observations, emotional asides, musings, and even occasional jokes. It makes a fascinating read, one that I recommend all those interested in the First World War.


Walking in the Footsteps of the Fallen – Verdun 1916

Walking in the Footsteps of the Fallen
Verdun 1916

Christina Holstein

As a frequent visitor to the Verdun battlefield I am very familiar with the 'traditional' battlefield highlights and have guided numerous people around these sites. This book goes beyond those traditional battlefield sites and details four walks that connecting features and positions that were of considerable importance to the battle. It helps make sense of the wider battlefield, that can be difficult to understand in the forests that cover the ground today, and Christina has used many of the less visited and often neglected battlefield memorials to bring the story of the individuals and units that were thrown into the cauldron of Verdun to those following the walks.

This is a very useful book for those looking to go beyond the traditional tour and one that will enhance the understanding of all who follow its four routes.


Amiens 1918 - From Disaster to Victory

Amiens 1918 - From Disaster to Victory

Gregory Blaxland

Gregory Blaxland has written a superb account of 1918, the final year of the war when the balance of advantage between the combatants changed so dramatically in a matter of weeks that summer.

As the realities of the changing nature of warfare by late 1917 made the retention of static lines, no matter how sophisticated, no longer a long term viable option for the defence; and with Russia knocked out of the war, the Germans under Hindenburg and Ludendorff determined on a bold series of major offensives, the first of which was aimed at the British Fifth Army with the objective of seizing Amiens, a crucial rail head and the city that marked the boundary between the BEF and the French. Capture this and the Germans had a good chance of separating the key allied powers. Despite almost destroying Fifth Army and advancing within ten miles of Amiens, the Germans failed in their objective; they turned to a number of other hard thrusts along the line but were foiled on each occasions.

Reinforced by substantial numbers of American troops, the allies launched their first, French led, counter attack on 18 July, which many considered the turning point of the 1918 campaign and, indeed the whole war. Shortly afterwards, on 8 August, the BEF (with some French support) attacked with Fourth Army before Amiens and was stunningly successful – what Ludendorff described as the ‘Black Day of the German Army’. There followed a sequence of blows by all the allies along the Western Front, pushing the Germans back to the borders; with her allies collapsing and with the Imperial Navy in a state of mutiny.

The book largely concentrates on the British and Dominion troops of the BEF. The first half is taken up with the attack on Amiens (and, to a lesser extent, on Arras). In the second half of the book the author provides a cohesive account of the British response in retaking the initiative from the Germans, though not failing to give allied nations their due.

Besides giving a full narrative account, he also provides a useful critical commentary of the performance of armies and generals.

This is a welcome reprint of an accessible account of the crucial year of the war, when on the Western Front the conflict broke free of its entrenched deadlock. Despite the extraordinary achievements of the BEF in 1918, they still remain remarkably little known and even less appreciated.


British Expeditionary Force - Advance to Victory - July to September 1918

British Expeditionary Force - Advance to Victory - July to September 1918

Andrew Rawson

This is the story of the British Expeditionary Force's part in the opening days of the Advance to Victory. It starts with the contribution to the Battle of Fère-en-Tardenois in July; the counter-offensive which pushed the Germans back to the River Marne.

Fourth Army's attack on 8 August was called the Black Day of the German Army, but it was only the beginning of 100 days of campaigning. The narrative follows the advance as it expands across the Somme, the Artois and the Flanders regions. Time and again the British and Empire troops used well-developed combined arms tactics to break through successive lines of defence. By the end of September, all five of the BEF's armies had reached the Hindenburg Line and were poised for the final advance.

Each stage of the two month battle is given the same treatment, covering the details of the most talked about side of the campaign; the BEF's side. Over fifty new maps chart the day by day progress of the five armies and together with the narrative, explain the British Army's experience during the opening stages of the Advance to Victory. The men who made a difference are mentioned; those who led the advances, those who stopped the counter-attacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross. Discover the beginning of the Advance to Victory and learn how the British Army had mastered the art of attack.


British Expeditionary Force - The Final Advance

British Expeditionary Force - The Final Advance - September to November 1918

Andrew Rawson

This is the story of the British Expeditionary Force's part in the final days of the Advance to Victory. It starts with the massive offensive against the Hindenburg Line at the end of September 1918. Second Army launched the first of the British attacks in Flanders on the 28th, followed by Fourth Army the next day along the St Quentin Canal.

Both First and Third Armies joined in, breaking the Hindenburg Line across the Lys plain and the Artois region, taking Cambrai by 10 October. The narrative then follows the advance through the battles of the River Selle and the River Sambre. It culminates with the final operations, including the actions at Maubeuge and Mons, just before the Armistice on 11 November 1918. Time and again the British and Empire troops used well-rehearsed combined arms tactics to break down German resistance as the four year conflict came to an end.

Each stage of the six week long battle is dealt with equally, focusing on the most talked about side of the campaign, the BEF's side. Over fifty new maps chart the day by day progress of the five armies. Together the narrative and the maps explain the British Army's experience during the final days of the First World War. The men who led the advances, broke down the defences and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross are mentioned. Discover the end of the Advance to Victory and learn how the British Army reached the peak of their learning curve.


Discovering Alvin York's WWI Battlefield

Hero on the Western Front - Discovering Alvin York's WWI Battlefield

Michael Kelly

They knew it was the end. Weakened by four years of war, the reality had finally dawned on the Germans that their armies could never stop the combined might of the Allied forces, now bolstered by the fresh, enthusiastic Americans, who were now determined to be involved in the conflict that had engulfed the world.

The US effort in 1918, in what became known as the Hundred Days Offensive, was focused on the Argonne Forest. It was there that 1,200,000 men were deployed in what was to be the largest offensive in the United States' military history.

It was in the fighting in the Argonne Forest that one of the most remarkable incidents in the entire First World War took place. In October 1918, Corporal Alvin Cullum York single-handedly captured 132 Germans and killed twenty-one in a desperate fire-fight.

York's battalion of the 328th Infantry Regiment had become pinned down by heavy machine-gun and artillery fire. Its commander sent Sergeant Bernard Early, four non-commissioned officers, including the recently promoted Corporal York, and thirteen privates to infiltrate the German positions and neutralise the machine-guns. The small American force came upon a large group of enemy troops having breakfast, and these were taken prisoner. They then came under fire from German machine-guns which left eight men were killed or wounded and York as the senior NCO. York and the survivors returned fire and silenced the enemy, allowing the Americans to rejoin their battalion with the 132 prisoners in tow. York was promoted to Sergeant and he received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The site of this famous action was believed to have been identified in 2009 and a memorial erected by the French authorities. However, a team of archaeologists, with help from the French Department of Archaeology and the use of modern day Geographic Information Science, believe that the memorial is incorrectly situated, and have uncovered thousands of exhibits to support their claim.

Complete with detailed plans and diagrams, and a rich variety of photographs of locations and artefacts, Michael Kelly presents not only a fascinating account of York's determined courage, but also a detective story as the team unravels the evidence to reveal the exact ravine where the most famous US military action of the First World War took place.


The Badges of Kitchener’s Army

The Badges of Kitchener's Army

David Bilton

Badges of Kitchener's Army is based on thirty years research in museums, archives and collections. It is an exhaustive study of the development of the battalion, brigade and divisional signs of the thirty divisions raised by Kitchener's appeal for men.

While the divisional signs are well known, there has been little authoritative work on the signs worn by the infantry battalions. The book will illustrate the unique cap and shoulder titles used, as well as cloth signs worn to provide easy recognition in the trenches. Each service battalion, of each regiment has a listing, which provides a brief history of the unit and detailed information on the badges worn.

It is prodigiously illustrated and contains much information, like why a shape or colour was chosen, when it was adopted, what size it was, whether it was worn on a helmet, what colour the helmet was and even what colours were used on horse transport; the majority of this rich and detailed information has never been published before. What helps make the information accurate and authoritative is that much of it comes from an archive created at the time and from personal correspondence with hundreds of veterans in the 1980s, many of whom still had their badges and often had razor-sharp recollections about wearing them. The book will also provide some comments from these veterans.

A further unique aspect of the book is that it will look at the uniforms and badges worn before the battalions left the country, providing much new information that will enable people to identify any photographs they have lying around.


Walking the Western Front - The Somme in Pictures

Walking the Western Front - The Somme in Pictures - 2nd July 1916 - November 1916

Ed Skelding

The Walking the Western Front series started in 2012 with the release of two films on the Ypres Salient. Directed by acclaimed film maker Ed Skelding with guest historian Nigel Cave, the series of films offered a detailed tour of the battlefields, exploring the skirmishes originally fought there as well as calling on Nigel's high level of expertise. The duo also visited a number of war cemeteries and famous locations on the battlefields.

This book, brought to you by the same team, is aimed as a companion to the DVD series and explores the history of the battlefields through the eyes of the camera team. Complete with 150 prints, both in colour and black and white taken over a twenty year period reflecting the authors many filming trips to the Somme, the book shows the battlefield as it was almost 100 years ago and is accompanied by a shot of the exact same spot as it stands today. The author then explains the significance of the photographs and why they were included in both the book and the film. Battleground historian Nigel Cave will also contribute to proceedings and add his expert knowledge to the narrative.

While researching the battlefields, the author has taken many photographs with the intention of selecting locations for filming. Each has been carefully chosen to maintain the narrative and, as much as possible, to put the viewer/reader on the spot where the action took place.


Page last updated: 9th January 2020