First world war history

The horrors of the Eastern Front

Ten years ago David Cameron, as prime minister, pledged £50 million for the centenary of the first world war. The focus was on ‘capturing our national spirit in every corner of the country, something that says something about who we are as a people’. Beyond a celebration of the Tommy on the Western Front and a belated acknowledgement of colonial Britain’s sacrifice, it was a missed opportunity. There was little attempt to better understand the region where the war began – and where, according to Nick Lloyd’s exhaustive The Eastern Front, it never really ended. Indicative of his understandable wariness about penetrating beyond Britain’s comfort zone (he is the acclaimed

The carnage of the Western Front was over surprisingly quickly

This book does not mess about. It tells the story of the fighting on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918, just like it says on the tin. It offers a proudly traditional military history, from the opening skirmishes, through the titanic clashes of the Marne and Verdun, the Somme and Ypres, on to the often overlooked Allied sweep to victory of the Hundred Days. It describes what happened when, where and why. There is no discussion of why the war was fought in the first place or of what the men thought they were fighting for. The war here, as it was for that generation, is simply an inescapable

Master of disguise: the British genius who concealed whole Allied battle lines

Early one morning in October 1874 a barge carrying three barrels of benzoline and five tons of gunpowder blew up in the Regent’s Canal, close to London Zoo. The crew of three were killed outright, scores of houses were badly damaged, the explosion could be heard 25 miles away, and ‘dead fish rained from the sky in the West End’.  This is a book about the weird, if obvious, intersection between firework manufacture and warfare. It is, ostensibly, the biography of Frank Brock, a hero of the first world war. And if it were the work of more ambitious literary hands, Brock would have been all you got: his heritage,