Book reviews by Steve Earles: The Great War Illustrated 1918

Archive and Colour Photographs of WW1

By William Langford and Jack Holroyd

This is the final book in this series, the last of five titles, which have to stand as one of the very best series that Pen and Sword has published – which is no mean feat.

The photos and images in this book come from all sides of the conflict and tell their story in a most vivid way. It really gives the war a different dimension. For example, the first chapter is on the Zeebruge and Ostend Raids, an event in the Great War that, Pen & Sword aside, doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. The photos are amazing, and the fact that the photos come from both sides gives the story an unparalled perspective.

As with the previous books, the text is spot on, just enough to give each image its correct context, which is a sign of fine writing.

Chapter Two covers the German Spring Offensives, their last throw of the dice to take advantage of their use of Lenin to take Russia out of the war, thus freeing up more men. The photos really show the hell of total war, their attempt to use the blitzkrieg tactics that would be perfected in World War II. The sheer waste of human life is utterly staggering.

Chapter Three covers Salonika, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, bringing home just what a world war the Great War was.

It’s interesting to note the massive precautions taken against mosquitoes.

Even more interesting is to see photos of the famous Dunsterforce. We also see Lawrence of Arabia, and the capture of Jerusalem from the forces of the Ottoman Empire. Of particular interest to me as an Irishman is the photo of ‘Abandoned German or Turkish motor transport near Nablus on the Jericho road, captured by elements of the 10th (Irish) Division during their advance in 1918.

Chapter Four: The Italian Front is, again, a part of the Great War not as well-known as it should be, so these photos are very important, and the photos of the fighting in the mountains between the Austrians and Italians are astonishing. Later we see the horrors of the Germans using flamethrowers and poison gas on the Italians. It brings home the extent of man’s inhumanity to man. Yet there are lighter moments, for instance, British and Italian teams playing football.

Chapter Five covers the Battles of the Aisne and the Marne.

Chapter Six focuses on the American impact on the Great War.

It is interesting to see photos of the Y.M.C.A and Salvation Army looking after the men. There is an image of a fly-blown corpse which is truly harrowing. Also terrible is the tale of an explosion at The National Shell Filling Factory, Chilwell, which killed 134 people and injured 250.

It is particularly sickening to read about and see the Allied generals who knew at the end of the war that an armistice was to take effect, yet continued fighting at a great waste. Chief among these was the Commander of the American Expeditionary Force, John J. Pershing.

More uplifting are the pictures of the African-American soldiers, who as the authors perceptively write: “Their courage was especially noteworthy, as they had to face a determined enemy and mindless, prejudiced commanders and men on their own side.”

Chapter Seven covers the ‘Battle of Amiens The Hindenburg Line-Advance to Victory’. What really comes across in these photos is the speed of the advance at this stage of the war.

To my mind the best chapter of all is the final chapter, Chapter Eight: Some Consequences of this Global War. For instance, after the Armistice, the Allied blockade of Germany was needlessly maintained, causing starvation and misery in Germany on a massive scale. There are also starting pictures of mutiny and revolution in Germany. Additionally, there are photos of the Allied Intervention in Russia, and the Russian Civil War itself, one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history and most significant in the sense it allowed the rise of Communism, and thus deserves to be better known.

We see too that influenza killed people worldwide in their millions, again, another subject people should know, lest it happens again.

Overall, monarchies fell, and the map of the world changed. Having suffered the ravages of global war, the world was a harsher and more violent place, and worse was to come.

This is a very worthy book for anyone’s collection, whether they are interested in the Great War, photography, or simply history in general.

More reviews of books in The Great War Illustrated series and military history:

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (