Posted by: sommecourt | 16/08/2012

Review: Home Before The Leaves Fall

Home Before The Leaves Fall by Ian Senior (Osprey 2012, ISBN 978 1 84908 843 5) 392pp, illustrated, maps.

For the majority of those who read this review the Great War began with the opening shots of the British Army at Mons on 23rd August 1914. But for France and Germany the war by then was almost three weeks old and both sides had suffered casualties that completely dwarfed the losses of the BEF at Mons. Those real opening shots of the Great War fought on the borders of Alsace-Lorraine in Eastern France are a forgotten episode of the war to an English speaking audience.

This new book by Ian Senior is one of a growing number in English bringing into sharp focus the fighting in areas outside the British and Commonwealth experience of WW1. Using a wide variety of sources in both French and German, including the French Official History, Senior weaves a fascinating tale of a costly period for both nations. German was a modern army prepared for a European war of movement. France stepped into the field of battle with men wearing red trousers, cavalry with gleaming breast plates and an officer class whose spirit of elan had little changed since the Franco-Prussian War. It cost them dear – by the close of the year the French alone had lost three quarters of a million men killed, wounded and missing.

The book begins with a look at pre-war plans and the importance of the Schlieffen Plan for Germany and Plan XVII for France; the latter probably less familiar to most readers. It then takes a chronological approach to the early battles on the frontiers in August, to the continued bitter fighting in the autumn leading to stalemate and the start of trench warfare by the early winter. There are many first-hand accounts quoted, which often offer a chilling insight into warfare in 1914 and throughout the book is well sourced with extensive endnotes.

Home Before The Leaves Fall is a very readable book, and the excellent maps help to understand the sequence of events, rather than just window dress. This move by Osprey into hardback serious history is to be welcomed; Senior’s book is an important addition to our understanding of the Great War and the role of combatants aside from Great Britain. My hope is that the upcoming centenary will encourage more books like this, peeking into the dark corners of a war that still resonates a hundred years later.

The book can be ordered in various formats from the Osprey website: Home Before The Leaves Fall.


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