Walking the Somme by Paul Reed

Regular readers will probably need no introduction to Paul Reed. A prolific military historian, he is also a battlefield guide and a regular expert on the TV screens when it comes to military history. One of those people who makes you wonder, how do they fit it all in?!

Hopefully one day I will get myself to the Somme, and when I do this book will be in my rucksack. But until then a read of this is not a bad substitute. I wonder how many people, like me, own plenty of battlefield guides but have never been anywhere near the places? I find that because they are written in a manner aiming to interpret the lie of the land, and bring the battle to life, battlefield guidebooks come across like that even if you’re reading them in the comfort of your own home. And surely that is the whole intention of writing history? It’s something that Paul Reed does very well here. My understanding of the Battle of the Somme has been vastly improved thanks to this book. In particular, I have a much stronger grasp on what happened to the Portsmouth Pals- the 14th and 15th Hampshires – at Flers and Guillemont respectively. And considering I’m quite new to studying the Great War, but looking to publish a book on it myself in the non too distant future, thats a very useful thing.

The battlefield of the Somme is ‘broken up’ into a series walks, logical in scope and and sensible in duration. The book is amply illustrated, with photographs, archive maps and sketch maps – which somehow are very evocative of the great war, a nice touch. I also like how it concentrates far more on the common soldier than it does on the Generals, which is not always the case with First World War books! Sensibly, Paul has concentrated on the battlefields themselves, without swamping the reader with ancilliary information. Most of us have the internet at hand nowadays, and tourist information for Albert should be at our fingertips with a quick google search. Hence theres no need to overload the book with hotels, trains and toilets, when there is far more interesting stuff to think about.

This book was actually first published almost twenty years ago. And I have to say, considering the changes in technology and the shifts in military history since then, it has ‘aged’ remarkably well. I guess its comparable to, say, writing a battlefield guide now, say, for an iphone app, who knows what innovations might take place between now and twenty years time? So to pass the test of time is no small achievement.

Walking the Somme is published by Pen and Sword



Filed under Book of the Week, western front, World War One

26 responses to “Walking the Somme by Paul Reed

  1. John Erickson

    I’ve never been to Europe, but I have walked US Civil War battlefields. It is truly chilling to realise that the rolling linear depressions in the grass are the actual trenches that the Confederates dug, and seeing rusty scratches on hillsides where cannon wheels (steel-shod wheels) scraped along the rock.
    You know, since you’ll be a rich and prosperous author by then, I DO have a 50th birthday in another 13 months, and a GREAT present would be a flight to France to wander the battlefields with a world-renowned author! (Hint, hint! 😀 )

    • James Daly

      I would like to get into battlefield guiding at some point. It’s something I really enjoy on a personal basis but it is tricky establishing yourself in that kind of field. I mean, what could a 28 year old possibly know? I did send round my CV to all of the British battlefield tour companies a few years ago and got few replies, and the ones that I did get were very condescending to say the least. So I figure that I get a few books out, build up a reputation, ‘mature’ a bit (like a good cheese), and give it a go later!

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  3. Mark W

    The area around the Somme is a beautiful peaceful place.I have been to Pozieres where my great uncle is commemorated (if not buried) and to the Thiepval memorial just down the road.
    It is hard to contemplate that such mindless slaughter occured there not too long ago.

    • James Daly

      I’m hoping to go to the Somme and Ypres when I research my book on Portsmouth’s WW1 Dead. It is a very sobering thought. To my eternal regret the only battlefield I have been to is Arnhem, and that’s always been very emotial every time.

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