Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Book Review:  Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I  

By Emily Mayhew, ISBN 0199322457

I was fortunate enough to be able to read this book before its official release as an Ebook, which for some reason did not have the illustrations working properly. Nevertheless I found it an easy to read, fascinating, and important book on the western front and the great war in general.

It is not a typical history book. The author does not use much in the way of official documents, manuals and after action reports as I would normally expect. Instead, she pieces together the route a wounded British serviceman would take from the front line to the British Hospitals by telling the stories found in memoirs of men, and women, who served in the various jobs along the evacuation route. Unlike the work of Lyn McDonald, where the quotes are offset, Mayhew has written the participants of each chapter into a very readable and coherent narrative.  

It's unusual in that each chapter deals with a different 'type' of jobs: stretcher bearer, orderly, hospital train nurse, chaplain, field hospital staff, and even the volunteers who moved the wounded from trains arriving in London onto ambulances that took them to the Blighty Hospitals. Even the medical services to POWs are mentioned.  Normally, this type of book I find relies too much on direct (and often erroneous quotes) but pardon the pun when I call it 'ripping well done.

It opens up a while new area of the war that is not often talked about, and portrays chaplains (well, the good ones) in a whole new light. It's not a technical history of medicine in the war by any means, but a view from the ground up of what wounded soldiers went through, and what their caretakers went through.   When you read of the endless hours on their feet during a push, and the sometimes scarce resources they had to work with, you will not look at a nurse, or bearer, or doctor, or orderly, or ambulance driver the same way again.

Why is this book about the British medical system of special interest to those interested in the Americans in WW1? The book makes little mention of the vast medical support supplied to the British by the Americans; the large numbers of doctors and specialists who volunteered before 1917, and the even larger number of medical personnel who were attached to British medical units to gain experience while waiting for their A.E.F. components to get overseas. Thus the British medical system had a great influence on how the Americans developed their own.

Very Highly recommended. Not only for those interested in military medicine, but WW1 in general, and for how people can, and do, rise to the occasion to help their fellow man.  


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

This is an ETO MIA case from last year, however what is interesting about it is the guy was found with THREE dog tags.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Don't cry about the cost of 101st Material

While I think prices are crazy (like painted helmets, most of which are probably fake), I would like to make the point that it's only collecting SPECIFIC THINGS that is a rich man's game.  Sure, you want uber special-combat-commando-death from above-named and used in combat stuff? It's going to cost you- due to supply and demand as the demand is ultra high.

But if you collect something that is not at the top of the pile there's lots of stuff that can still be collected for cheap. You can walk into a show and for little money buy some nice things if they are not something everyone else is buying. And in that knowledge is power. If you know what you are doing there are always undervalued things on dealer's tables that they don't realize the value of it. 

Part of this is the old collectable rule of 'collect something no one else does, amass it, write a book, then sell off you collection.' Case in point: old metal lunch boxes. Once the book has been written interest goes up and prices spike.

Yes, you should collect what you are interested in, but collectors, especially young ones, should at least consider not following the crowd.   If they look around (and read books on military subjects that are not just collector's books) they may very well find something that is interesting, and for the cost of a "pistol belt used by a paratrooper" can acquire a very nice collection of items that may just be sitting in people's junk boxes.

Maybe that means from a time period folks aren’t interested I much. I see some really great cold war material for cheap.  Navy items are still pretty inexpensive. There's a lot of small home front dohickies that are passed by as 'not being a combat item.'  I am astounded at the low cost of some of the post 2000 military items on the market. Most of these guys are still around and could probably tell some great stories- a gold mine for a young collector. It could be another country's items; how many people collect Canadian items used in peacekeeping missions?  You could collect variations on WW2 canteens and end up with a great collection of different makers for the cost of one "combat used" helmet.  

I am reminded of a fellow I took to his first show who wanted to collect German stuff. After looking at the prices, and realizing the minefield of fakes, he started collecting German railway insignia.  He picked up items that no one was reproducing, for a very low price when everyone else was looking at the iron cross 1st class and trying to decide if it was real.

I guess what I am saying is keep your mind open and don’t feel you have to follow the crowd. Strike out on your own. Find an area no one knows much about and do the research to make it your own area of expertise. If you have to collect WW2 combat infantry consider specializing on one division or landing in the Pacific. Or what about the coast artillery, or AAA units, or … the list is almost endless.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

GI Blue: An MP's journey through World War II
by William R. Lewis

Another WW2 MP book !   This one, written by the veteran, covers his time in the 202nd MP Bn.  in the Mediterranean; mainly Italy. It's a competent memoir, and everything pretty much rings true.  The 202nd was initially a Corps unit, then he ends up in a 5th Army unit (which explains the cover photo with 5th Army MP jeep).

However, as a book about an MP unit there are few of the mundane silly little details that die hard enthusiasts are looking for.  So nothing about equipment, helmets markings, vehicle markings, etc.  Not that it’s a subject everyone has an interest in. There's also not really any actual combat material, but then I did not expect any.

It does a good job of portraying MPs as having a somewhat dearly life patrolling up and down roads looking for broken down vehicles, manning obscure checkpoints, giving directions, and basically doing  pretty much what we expect them to be doing.  In doing so it reinforces my feelings that this is how MPs spent their time, not bashing in heads of drunken soldiers, or writing up troops for having missing buttons, or smashing black market rings. They had a job to do, sometimes pretty boring, they did it, and that's that.

As for photos, there are a few but they show little in the ways of any MP related details. Really, the best one is on the cover. It is a print on demand book, so it ends up costing $20 for a paperback, which is a little steep, but then there probably will never be many printed and almost impossible to find used.

So in short, I'm slightly torn.  There is nothing wrong with the book. It’s a solid WW2 memoir providing a glimpse in the life of an average MP. Certainly if you have an interest in those troops you should get a copy.  I'd rate it as above average in terms of WW2 memoirs (not much rehashing of the strategic picture, no improbably stories, and a goodly section about the war years instead of pre and post Army life), well written, and on an obscure subject. I just keep wondering what this book might have been had someone sat down and really prodded him for all the little details that are going to be lost in time.  

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Defining Moment at Wirtzfeld: The Story of the Military Police Platoon, 2nd Infantry Division, in World War II, by James Edwards

This is a "son of a vet' book about the MP platoon of the 2nd Infantry Division. 

First, I have to say- do not let the rimmed British .303 rounds on the cover discourage you. When I saw them I took a deep breath and chanted "it's only the cover designer…"     Second, it was a massive shock to find that I was thanked at the end of the forward for 'Finding Your Father's War.' I had no knowledge of this book at all until I saw a mention of it on the web.

In any event, it is a very competent history of the 2nd MP platoon. I will say the author has really done his homework and gone through not only the unit records, but also company morning reports, families of other veterans, and whatever else he could turn up.  So this is by no means a dull "written from a few letters my dad sent home and what WW2 books I found at the library;" there's a lot of in depth work here.  Sadly, only two MP platoon vets were able to be located to interview for it (an amazing number in this day and age).  

Also, a number of family members of vets he located turned out to have photos from the war, and the book is filled with them. Sadly, many are the tiny ones that are never as clear as you want them to be, but a far cry from overused generic  signal corps ones. Sadly, there's not too many MP details to be gleamed from them, but some good ones showing helmet and jeeps markings at various times.

As a unit history of that platoon it is very good. Unfortunately, where it stumbles is in dealing with all the minutae of being an MP in WW2, which has never been well documented. No blame to the author here- you cannot write about something that pretty much everyone that ever knew it has died.  Which is why I got depressed reading this book: we're very close to the end of having any living input into books on WW2.  

If you have an interest in the 2nd Infantry Division you will find a lot of the info interesting, especially of the stand at Wirtzfeld which is certainly a major event in the unit's history. Likewise this makes it a good book for any one really deep into the Ardennes. If you are just interested in what MPs did, you may be somewhat disappointed as there's not a lot of that material here.

Saturday, January 05, 2013


Yeah, I am going back to reviewing more books. For a while there was just so much crap out there I figured military publishing was ruined.  There's still a lot of crap, but you all know that if I give something a thumbs up, it's probably worth reading.

I have to say that military publishing has been pretty slow in terms of ebooks. This may have to do with the issues of using photos and maps and such, which can be done (I have a project due out soon), but it's a pain and not as cool as a nice print layout.

Anyway, if you know any books I should look at, with a focus on memoirs and collecting, let me know.

But while I am on this, I have to mention two books which are great fun- although they are military science fiction.

The 'Chronicles of Old Guy,' and 'Space Battleship Scharnhorst and the Library of Doom'.    They deal with massive cybernetic armored vehicles in the far future. If you think these are just another Ogre/Bolo books, well they are quite different, contain scads of odd and unusual ideas, and are really great fun.  You know they have to be good as the author is my frigging genius brother,  and I really, REALLY wanted to hate them as I am the author in this family... but no, they were too good. Anyway, go take a look at the first chapter off 'Old Guy' at Amazon (or B+N, or Smashwords) and if you like the first few pages, it just gets better.