The area around Arras is as rich in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries as anywhere else on the Western Front, including the Somme and Ypres, and yet, with the exception of Vimy Ridge, it remains largely neglected and its cemeteries receive relatively few visitors. This book hopes to change that by telling the stories of those who fell and are now buried just north of Arras and the River Scarpe; the telling of their story is the telling of what it was like to be a soldier on the Western Front.
This ‘Who’s Who’ of officers and other ranks has comprehensive coverage of gallantry awards, including citations. It also covers many small operations, raids and actions, as well as the Battle of Arras 1917 where the daily casualty rate exceeded that of Third Ypres, and even that of the Battle of the Somme.
There are stories of great courage and many unsung heroes whose only recognition was a deep respect earned among their fellow comrades. There are many personal tragedies, as well as some lighter moments; there are brothers, fathers and sons, poets and padres. Many of the personalities and characters led highly interesting lives in their own right, whilst others are linked to the famous, the well-connected, or sometimes just to a single, momentary event; the majority, however, were just ordinary men caught up in extraordinary circumstances.
Among those mentioned in the book are a young man who went out into no man’s land to rescue his brother, an uncle and nephew killed by the same shell, a suicide in the trenches and a young soldier killed by a random shell whilst celebrating his birthday with his comrades. There is an unexpected connection to Ulster dating back to the days of Oliver Cromwell and William of Orange, a link to Sinn Fein and an assassination, a descendant of Sir Isaac Newton, as well as a conjuror, a friend of P.G. Wodehouse, a young officer said to have been ‘thrilled’ to lead his platoon into the trenches for the first time, only to be killed three hours later, and a man whose headstone still awaits the addition of his Military Medal after almost a century, despite having been involved in one of the most daring rescues of the war.
This is a superb reference guide for anyone visiting Arras and its battlefields, but its great appeal also lies in the fact that it can be enjoyed as an ‘armchair’ read by anyone interested in the lives of those who fought in the Great War.