First World War

The Great War Bookshop Diary, April 2015 – 1915

Monday, March 30th

King George decides to takes a pledge to abstain from alcohol for the duration of the war. In South West Africa General Botha’s men advance.

Tuesday, March 31st

The German armies on the Western Front now comprise over 5,000,000 men. In New York, crowds flock to see the first epic of the film era – ‘The Birth of a Nation’.

Wednesday, April 1st

British planes bomb German submarine bases in Belgium. Over 30,000 British women have signed an official register to apply for war work.

 Thursday, April 2nd

Behind the German lines on the Western Front, scientists test how to release poison gas. ANZAC troops camped near Cairo riot through the city’s brothels.

Friday, April 3rd

French troops for Gallipoli arrive at their staging camp in Egypt.

Saturday, April 4th

Further progress reported in South West Africa. The strategic German settlement at Warmbad is occupied.

Sunday, April 5th

Two German officers escape from a prisoner of war camp at Denbigh in North Wales. They will stay on the run for a week before being re-captured.

Monday, April 6th

The Austrians want to take troops from the Eastern Front to defend themselves in the event of attack from Italy but the Germans object.

Tuesday, April 7th

British forces in Egypt start to leave for bases on the Greek islands to make their final preparations for the Gallipoli landings.

Wednesday, April 8th

The Germans near Ypres prepare chlorine gas for an attack but the wind is against them. Italy demands territory from Austria in return for neutrality.

Thursday, April 9th

German attempts to attack on rafts over the flooded ground north of Ypres are driven off. Germany accuses the United States of shipping contraband to the Allies.

Friday, April 10th

A ship carrying American war relief for Belgian refugees in Britain is sunk when a German submarine attacks a convoy near the Hebrides.

Saturday, April 11th

A giant German biplane with three powerful motors, the Staaken bomber, makes its maiden flight.

Sunday, April 12th

In the first pitched battle of the Mesopotamia campaign, a British force of 6,000 troops defeats a Turkish force of 12,000 at Shaiba.

Monday, April 13th

Lloyd George takes charge of the government’s Munitions Committee. A zeppelin is brought down by anti-aircraft fire near Ypres.

Tuesday, April 14th

A zeppelin reaches Wallsend, on Tyneside, and drops incendiary bombs: four civilian casualties. The work of the Red Cross is banned in German-occupied areas of Belgium.

Wednesday, April 15th

Italy builds up its forces in five areas facing the Austrian border. Night-time zeppelin raids against East Anglia: zero casualties.

Thursday, April 16th

The Canadian parliament approve a sum of $100,000,000 to be spent on the war. More than 100,000 Canadians are now in uniform.

Friday, April 17th

The British blow up German trenches on Hill 60 near Ypres with mines and, on occupying the craters, beat off counter attacks.

Saturday, April 18th

Fierce fighting for the craters at Hill 60. British aircraft locate and attack a German airstrip at the Dardanelles.

Sunday, April 19th

A French plane is shot down behind German lines, enabling the Germans to copy its device for allowing a machine gun to fire through its propeller.

Monday, April 20th

German artillery bombards Ypres ahead of a new attempt to seize the city using gas. The burning town’s civilian population departs in a hurry.

Tuesday, April 21st

The Austrians begin readying defences on their Italian borders in anticipation of attack.

Wednesday, April 22nd

The Germans use chlorine gas on a wide front to launch their mass assault against Ypres. French troops flee in panic. The Canadians move into the gap and steady the line.

Thursday, April 23rd

Lance Corporal Frederick Fisher becomes the first Canadian VC winner of the war after sticking by his machine gun when his comrades were killed.

Friday, April 24th

The death of the British poet, Rupert Brooke, is mourned on a French hospital ship. He died of blood poisoning caused by a mosquito bite on his lip.

 Saturday, April 25th

The British land at two places on the Gallipoli peninsula, ANZAC Cove and Cape Helles. Determined Turkish defenders pin the invaders to the beaches.

Sunday, April 26th

The British sustain heavy casualties at Gallipoli trying to establish their beachheads. On the Western Front, Lt. William Rhodes-Moorhouse wins the first VC in the air.

Monday, April 27th

Sir John French sacks one of his generals, Horace Smith-Dorrien, for urging a strategic retreat at Ypres. The cabinet authorises gas to be used as a weapon.

Tuesday, April 28th

British troops at Cape Helles advance two miles while the Royal Navy bombards Turkish positions. The Germans halt their attacks at Ypres.

Wednesday, April 29th

A zeppelin drops bombs on Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds: zero casualties.

Thursday, April 30th

The British at Cape Helles repulse a Turkish counter-attack after the government in Constantinople orders General Liman to ‘drive the invaders into the sea’.

Friday, May 1st

The first Mills hand grenades reach troops on the Western Front. A German submarine sinks an American tanker without warning in the Mediterranean.

 Saturday, May 2nd

The German government buys adverts in New York newspapers warning that ships flying the flags of the Allies will be attacked.

Sunday, May 3rd

Italy renounces its treaty obligations towards Austria, signalling the gradual mobilisation of its army.


Where Did All the Great War Books Go?

Book Review:  ‘Merchants Of Hope; British Middlebrow Writers and the First World War, 1919 – 1939’, by Rosa Maria Bracco.

Rosa Maria Bracco’s book was published by Berg in 1993 when she was working for a publisher based in Cambridge, England, after being awarded a doctorate from the university there. ‘Merchants of Hope’ reads like a Ph.D. thesis reworked for a middlebrow readership and it works. Almost every page holds something of interest about the Great War’s writers and their books. The author provides frequent summaries of plots, themes and characters and is helpfully restrained in not presuming too much upon the reader’s wider knowledge of the period.

In so far as Bracco pursues a critical argument it seems to be this: the invigorating analysis proposed by Paul Fussell in ‘The Great War & Modern Memory’ (1975) has had the unfortunate effect of obscuring the evidence offered by literature written closer to the event , much of which challenges Fussell’s assertion that the truest writing about the Great War was ironic. There were certainly bangry, ironical and disillusioned writers at work, 1919 – 1939, but most of those who made the Great War their subject after it had been won, civilian or military, Home Front or overseas, portrayed characters who thought the Great War was beastly but necessary. Heroism, fortitude, self-sacrifice and comradeship were taken as real by a majority of mainstream, best-selling English writers; these values signified an important truth about the War that readers expected to find endorsed in their novels.

Altogether Bracco refers to nearly 200 books, quite a few of them from names that will be familiar to Great War collectors. She also mentions a surprising number who will be new, including some from writers who never wrote again after their debut. Equally surprising, especially to book hunters familiar with ABE as a source of Great War titles, is the number of Bracco’s books which appear to have become extinct. About a quarter (37) of the books in her index are unavailable as hardback first editions on ABE. Many are now only available as print-on-demand facsimiles or e-books.

I checked two of Bracco’s titles – ‘Spears Against Us’ (1932?) by Cecil Roberts and ‘Simon Called Peter’ (1921) by Robert Keable. According to info gleaned from booksellers’ catalogue entries on ABE, sales for ‘Spears Against Us’ reached at least 170,000 copies; sales of ‘Simon Called Peter’ reached at least 250,000. Of the two titles, there were 16 copies of ‘Spears Against Us’ for sale on ABE and 31 copies of ‘Simon Called Peter’. This gives a survival ratio, in ABE terms, of approximately I: 8,000 for copies of ‘Simon Called Peter’ and 1: 10,500 for ‘Spears Against Us’. What happened to the rest of them, those tens of thousands of copies of both titles that have not survived the intervening eighty or ninety years? Lost? Discarded? Pulped? Are they still out there, somewhere, but not on ABE?

If Rosa Maria Bracco is right In thinking that English middlebrows of the Twenties and Thirties wrote of the Great War with a surer grasp of authenticity than their modern successors we should perhaps be taking them more seriously. Hurry now while stocks last.

The Great War Bookshop Diary, December 2014 – 1914

Monday, December 1st

French pilots start testing a device to enable them to shoot through their propellers. The leader of South Africa’s pro-German rebels, Christiaan de Wet, is captured.


Tuesday, December 2nd

Belgian troops north of Ypres repulse Germans trying to attack over the flooded fields with rafts.


Wednesday,   December 3rd

The German military imposes martial law in those parts of Belgium under its control and levies a tax to raise 40,000,000 francs for continuing the war.


Thursday, December 4th

King George visits Belgian Headquarters and confers a medal on King Albert. In London, an official inquiry gathers evidence of German atrocities.


Friday, December 5th

South Africa’s pro-German rebels offer to negotiate; the British demand unconditional surrender.


Saturday, December 6th

The Pope suggests a truce to mark Christmas. Long-range German guns bombard Ostend.


Sunday, December 7th

The Paris stock exchange re-opens for business. The British in Mesopotamia advance into the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.


Monday, December 8th

The biggest naval battle of the war so far takes place off the Falkland Islands. Admiral Sturdee sinks five German ships. Germans killed: 2,100. British killed: 10.


Tuesday, December 9th

Another Germany spy, Nicholas Ahlers, is sentenced to death but reprieved. The archaeologist T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) sails to Egypt for a job in Military Intelligence.


Wednesday,   December 10th

No one is nominated in the ‘Peace’ category when the year’s Nobel Prizes are announced in Stockholm.


Thursday, December 11th

British airmen adopt the French roundel to identify their aircraft because the Union Jack appears too like the German cross at long range.


Friday, December 12th

On the Eastern Front, a new offensive by the Germans and Austrians persuades to Russians to quit the city of Cracow.


Saturday, December 13th

A British submarine sneaks under a mine-field in the Dardanelles and sinks a Turkish battleship — the first success of its kind in naval warfare.


Sunday, December 14th

A counter attack by the Serbian Army forces the Austrians into retreat back and opens the way to Belgrade.


Monday, December 15th

Serbian patrols enter Belgrade as the Austrians retreat.


Tuesday, December 16th

German warships bombard Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby at breakfast time: 137 killed; 592 injured.


Wednesday,   December 17th

Britain takes control of Egypt and declares a Protectorate. British insurance companies raise premiums for householders on North Sea coasts.


Thursday, December 18th

The Indian troops who’ve arrived on the Western Front attack German trenches at Givenchy. A new Sultan, Hussein Kemal Pasha, is installed in Egypt.


Friday, December 19th

The Indians at Givenchy yield to German counter-attacks. Allied aircraft bomb zeppelin sheds at Brussels.


Saturday, December 20th

The French open a big offensive against the Germans in Champagne designed to relieve pressure on the Russians in the East.


Sunday, December 21st

British reinforcements are sent to bolster the Indians being pushed back at Givenchy. Lord Kitchener authorises a big expansion of the Royal Flying Corps.


Monday, December 22nd

German efforts break the Indian line at Givenchy are repulsed and the lost trenches regained.


Tuesday, December 23rd

The first Australian and New Zealand troops who left for Europe at the start of the war pitch camp outside Cairo.


Wednesday,   December 24th

Unofficial truces mark Christmas Eve on the Western and Eastern Fronts. Dover becomes the first British city to be bombed by aircraft. No one is hurt.


Thursday, December 25th

Three British seaplane carriers launch air-raids against targets inside Germany. One battleship at anchor is damaged.


Friday, December 26th

The Russians tell the British that they will not be able to resume offensive operations next year unless they get more artillery shells.


Saturday, December 27th

At a meeting with General Joffre, Sir John French is informed of French plans for large offensives in 1915 in which the British will play a supporting role.


Sunday, December 28th

Londoners are warned to take shelter in basements in the event of air-raids. More Australian and New Zealand troops leave for Europe.


Monday, December 29th

Winston Churchill urges cabinet colleagues to consider strategic alternatives to the Western Front where German superiority is forcing the Allies to ‘chew barbed wire’.


Tuesday, December 30th

German aircraft bomb Dunkirk, inflicting nearly 50 civilian casualties.


Wednesday,   December 31st

After five months of fighting, casualties on the Western Front are estimated to be: French, nearly 1,000,000; German, around 680,000; British, about 90,000.


Thursday, January 1st, 2015 -1915

A new medal is approved for junior officers – the Military Cross. This year’s Wimbledon tennis championships are cancelled.


Friday, January 2nd

King Albert rejects the idea of putting his army under the command of Sir John French. The Royal Navy bombards Dar-es-Salaam in German East Africa.


Saturday, January 3rd

The Roman Catholic leader in Belgium, Cardinal Mercier, is arrested for his pastoral letter urging ‘patriotism and endurance’ against German occupation.


Sunday, January 4th

Turkey suffers a heavy defeat in two separate battles against Russian Armies in the Caucasus.



Great War Books As Presents

The crucial aspect of giving a Great War book as a present is choosing it. The worst thing you can do is guess. Giving a Great War book case a book he (rarely she) already has or doesn’t want on his shelf is as bad as giving him a book that isn’t about the First World War, or about some other war.  The typical collector will only be too pleased to be told of your generous desire to fill the gap he’s been waiting to fill the moment a nice copy of Radetzky March or The Weary Road drops into his lap. So that’s your first step. Ask him what he wants. Write down the bibliographic details (publisher, date, place of publication, etc.) exactly as given. Better still, get your Intended Recipient (IR) to write them down. It will whet his sense of anticipation.

Next, at your leisure, go online and track down the title you’ve been given in the edition required. Remember, the time and effort you expend on its acquisition is part of its value. As far as the actual cost of the book is concerned, you do not have to choose the most expensive example. However, it must been in at least Very Good condition, without the mark of any previous collector and preferably in a jacket that is also in VG condition, ie. not price-clipped. Never give a scruffy book as a present and never an ex-lib example. If the only copy you can find is a Good or ex-lib example, check back with your IR. He will be only too happy to let you know where he stands on points affecting the condition of second-hand books.

When you have obtained your book a certain etiquette pertains to handing it over. It is perfectly acceptable, as mentioned above, to inform your IR while he is unwrapping your gift, of how much time and effort you have invested in the search. Even if the search was dead easy, you are allowed to elaborate. Book collectors tend to enjoy anecdotes about book collecting, although most people don’t. It is also polite, when your IR is admiring your opened present to his gloating satisfaction, to ask, ever so casually, what the book is about since this will give him an irresistible opportunity to display all his symptoms as a Great War book case, which is something he knows you will enjoy as much as himself.

It is unlikely, if you are a collector of Great War books yourself, that you will ever want to give one as a present. Interesting, significant and uncommon books about the First World War in VG condition in VG jackets are far too precious to be doled out like baubles. However, should the unlikely event occur, and you do find yourself ordering a book for someone else as a present, here is a helpful caveat: be careful on opening the parcel to check the goods.

One of the worst things that can happen is to find that you have bought for someone else a book that is better than you were expecting or, worst case scenario, better than the one you already own and with which you can no longer feel satisfied. In this circumstance, you may feel the perfectly human urge to keep the IR’s present for yourself and give him your own inferior copy. It is the sincere advice of The Great War Bookshop that you resist this temptation. Some hardened Great War book cases we deal with believe all is fair in love and war, especially in the books department; we say not. It is better to give than to receive, and if you’re going to give make it the best. You’ll make an old man (rarely an old woman) very happy.