Thursday 12 April 2007 by Craig Tibbitts. No comments
To Flanders Fields, 1917, Literature, Research material, War records

The following is not intended to provide an exhaustive bibliography of resources on the AIF campaigns in France and Flanders during 1917. Rather, it identifies some of the more useful and readily available sources for anyone wishing to explore the topic further.

Primary source records

One of the most useful primary sources for researching the Australian Imperial Force are their unit war diaries. Each unit (usually down to battalion level or equivalent for other arms) maintained a monthly diary recording in detail its activities and events, both of a routine administrative and operational nature. The original diaries are kept at the Australian War Memorial and microfilm copies are available for the public in the Research Centre. The Memorial has commenced digitising the entire collection of First World War AIF diaries and these are progressively being made available for viewing online via the Memorial’s website. At present (Nov 2007), the Formation Headquarters (eg. corps and division), Cavalry, Light Horse and Infantry Brigade diaries have been completed.  Scanning of the infantry battalion diaries is now in progress and these are being made available online as each set is completed. The home page for the diaries is /diaries/ww1/index.asp.

Published books

Bean’s Official Histories Bean’s Official Histories

TheOfficial History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 is the most complete and authoritative account of the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War. It comprises twelve volumes, and is available to read on the Australian War Memorial’s website. Volume IV (first published in 1933), covers the AIF in France and Flanders during 1917 and was written by C. E. W. Bean.

The British History of the Great War is another very useful official account providing a broader view of the campaigns from the British perspective to complement the narrower scope of the Australian official history.  France and Belgium, 1917 was compiled by Captain Cyril Falls and is a two-volume work.  Official histories also exist for the New Zealand and Canadian forces.

Anzac to Amiens is a one-volume abridged version of the Official History, again by C. E. W. Bean (1946). Chapters 19-21 cover the relevant 1917 campaigns and these are also available online.

AIF published unit histories are another valuable source for understanding the experiences of individual units involved in the campaigns.  Most infantry battalions published their own unit history after the war, while some left it to historians to write many decades afterwards.  The example shown above of the 25th Battalion is of the latter type, being written by Bob Doneley and published in 1997.

Passchendaele: the untold story by Australian historians Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson (2003) provides a more recent account of the Flanders Campaign in 1917. One review describes this book as ‘The most wide-ranging and perceptive account of Passchendaele yet written.’  An extensive and very useful bibliography is included in the book as well.

Passchendaele: the sacrificial ground by Nigel Steel and Peter Hart uses a wealth of vivid personal accounts of the battle.  These are mainly British, however there are also a few accounts by Australian, New Zealand and Canadian soldiers.  An excellent read, providing first-hand details of the horrendous conditions and the horror of this battle.  So many people die in this book that the reader will also start to despair.  Available at the AWM Bookshop.

Massacre at Passchendaele: the New Zealand story by Glyn Harper (2000). As the title suggests, this book provides a valuable account of Passchendaele from the New Zealand Division's perspective.  This outstanding division saw action at Ypres partnered with the Australian 3rd Division during October 1917.

In Flanders Fields: Passchendaele 1917 by Leon Wolff (1959) is the classic and widely acclaimed account of the battle.  Well worth reading however more recent accounts such as those shown above provide much greater detail and more insightful scholarly analysis.

Pillars of Fire: The Battle of Messines Ridge, June 1917 by Ian Passingham (2004) examines the battle for the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge from the British, Anzac and German perspectives. It reassesses the reasons for Plumer's success, the implications of Haig's failure to exploit that success, and finally, the legacy of the battle.

The blood tub: General Gough and the Battle of Bullecourt 1917 by Jonathan Walker (2000) is apparently the only book published dealing specifically with the battles at Bullecourt.  This book is very well written and provides a balanced view of both Australian and British involvement.

Cheerful Sacrifice: the Battle of Arras 1917 by Jonathan Nicholls (2006) tells the story of this often overlooked offensive which incorporated the Australians fighting at Bullecourt.  A little-known fact is that the daily British casualty rate of Arras surpassed both Passchendaele and the Somme; had it gone as long as those two epic encounters, it may well have been remembered as the big battle.  Nicholls' book contains numerous personal accounts and is well worth reading.

The German Army at Passchendaele by Jack Sheldon (2007) is an excellent source of knowledge on the German experience at Passchendaele during 1917.  It comprises over 300 pages of personal accounts of soldiers translated into English.  Most of the writings are by front line troops, from the lowliest ranks, NCOs and junior officers, plus a good sprinkling of the more senior commanders' thoughts as well.  Covers the whole campaign in the salient between July and December 1917.

Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918 is the German official history.  Volume 13 (published 1942) covers in detail the campaigns in France and Flanders during 1917.  German language.

Flandern, 1917 by Werner Beumelburg (1928) is a much more concise official German account of the campaign in Flanders.  German language.

Ypres and the Battles of Ypres was published in 1919 as one of a series of Michelin Illustrated Guides to the Battle-Fields 1914-1918. This little book provides a brief account of the three battles, and some very useful advice for the those visiting the battlefield, including numerous photographs and maps.

Ypres: the Holy Ground of British Arms by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel Henry Beckles Willson was published in 1920 and includes a brief history of the town and the three battles during the First World War. As the title suggests, it was not long after the war that Ypres came to be regarded as a significant centre for commemoration for the British and Commonwealth nations. As the booklet concludes, 'The Ypres Salient ... belongs henceforward to history and will for evermore be a sacred place for pilgrims to the graves of the heroic dead.'

Menin Gate and Last Post by Dominiek Dendooven.  'Few know the real background to the Menin Gate Memorial and many leave with questions unanswered. This book is for them, sketching as it does the fascinating history and significance of the Menin Gate and the Last Post.' (from www.klaproos.be/MENING.htm - includes ordering information)