As those of you who hang out in history-land know, the centennial of World War I is just around the corner. So far I’ve resisted the temptation to add to the flow of WWI-related blog posts, tweets, and images.* But the pile of books to review and the list of things I want to talk about is growing. So brace yourself, here we go.
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In the comments to my post last week on historical periods, friend/relative/reader Carol Hallock broadened the definition of historical figures to include, well, everyone:
“…we can have the same realization about the general Mr. and Ms. walking down the street, but their “big experiences” maybe never made headline news or history books. Everybody is a walking story.” **
Nick Lloyd, the author of Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, would agree. *** The book is inspired, in part, by his great-uncle, Tom Cotterill, who died at the age of nineteen only six weeks before the Armistice as part of the final campaigns of 1918. Visiting Cotterill’s grave in the British cemetery at Neuville-Bourjonval, Lloyd found himself “filled with a powerful urge to write a story of those final days; to do all that I could to bring him home.” From my perspective, he succeeds.
The “Hundred Days” is a British term referring to the often ignored period from the Battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918, through the Armistice on November 11, also known as the “Advance to Victory”. **** Lloyd begins his account in July, with the Second Battle of the Marne and follows the final campaigns in France and Belgium step by bloody step. Despite the British roots of his title, Lloyd does not look at the campaigns solely from the British, or even the Allied, perspective. Instead he analyses the battles from the point of view from each of the main warring sides, big picture and close-up alike. His accounts of each battle are both lively and clear (though I wish the maps were better). But the real strength of Lloyd’s work is his treatment of the experience of the war from an individual perspective. He paints vivid portraits of the character and motivations of the various commanders and draws on a variety of first hand accounts from men at all levels on both sides of the front. (His portrayal of the disintegration of German morale and discipline and the deprivations on the German home front are particularly powerful.) In a very real way, he has given us Tom Cotterill’s experience of the final campaigns of World War I: “the shattering bombardments; the storm of machine-gun fire; the sight of hundreds of dead and wounded; the exhaustion of endless marches; the glow of burning French villages; the comradeship and fear.”
Hundred Days is well worth the read. And since I recieved two copies, I have one to share. If you want your name to go into the hat, make a comment here on the blog, send me an e-mail, or comment on my Facebook post on or before noon CST, June 28.
*I don’t open Christmas presents early either.
**Carol’s comments encapsulate the idea behind what was called “the new social history” when I was in college. You can see the rest of what she had to say here.
***Why yes, I am starting my posts about WWI with the end of the war.
****Technically 95 days, but who’s counting?