Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Looking Back to WWI- The Blue Guides; Muirhead's Belgium and the Western Front

I stumbled on this book last night while I was looking for my British Napoleonic Infantry (and yes I found them). I believe I acquired this book when the state auctioned off everything in my old FLGS for back taxes. The Blue Guides are tourists books. This particular one was printed in 1920 so its 92 years old. Its a fascinating little book. It is an in depth tourist book of the region and starts off with an historical sketch of Belgium, moves on to a summary of the British Campaigns in the West (by Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice, K.C.M.G) which is followed by The American Operations on the Western Front (Prepared by the courtesy of the United States General Staff) and then moves on to a short section just titled Battlefields. There is a couple paragraphs on other useful maps and books as well as Books About the War (of which there are  more than you might think just 2 years later). This is followed by Practical Information; passports, custom house, money and expenses, railways, tourist agencies, motoring and cycling, hotels and restaurants and postal information. The bulkof the book is how to get from one spot to another and what to see such as:

"9. From Ostend to Ypres.
     Of the alternative routes described below the railway route via Thourout is of course the quickest, but the road route via Nieuport, skirting the coast at first, is the most interesting. The road route via Dismude crosses the site of the battle of the Yser. Routes 9a and 9c may be combined by proceeding from Furnes to Dismude by railway (comp. p.21) or by the road via Avecappelle and Pervyse.
     A. Via Thourout
     36m. (58km), Railway in 21/3 - 3 hrs (11 fr., 1 fr. 40, 4 fr. 40 c.). Carriages are sometimes changed at Thourout..."

As your proceed through the book following these routes it calls out information about the towns along the way such as this:

"7 1/2 m. (12km). Passchendaele, once a village of 3300 inhab., lost in the first battle of Ypres, was stormed by the 1st and 2nd Canadian Brigades on Nov. 6th, 1917. From the mound that was once the church we look down upon the Belgian plain, where in clear weather Bruges and Ostend may be distinguished. Passchendaele has given its name to the whole offensive movement which culminated in its capture. It is the symbol of a heroic and almost superhuman effort; of strategic failure but of splendid endurance under the most wretched conditions hitherto known in war.
     From the 78 German divisions engaged in the battle that ended here, the British captured 24,000 prisoners and 74 guns. On the Passchendaele ridge the sharpest fighting was at Crest Farm,  1/4 m. W of the village; at Meetcheele, 3/4 m. W.N.W.; at Mosselmarket, 3/4 m. N.N.W.; and on the Goudbert Spur, 1 m. N. Along the heights stood pill-boxes whose garrisons had been ordered to hold out to the last man. About 2 m. N. is Westroosebeke (p. 47). - Moorslede (2 m. S.E. of Passchedaele), which had witnessed some skirmishes early in the War, was captured by Belgian troops on Oct. 1st, 1918. The railway station (p. 44) lies between the two villages."
     Cemetaries near Passchendaele: Tyne Cot and Waterloo Farm (S.W.)."

Its 342 pages long and filled with pullout maps (some of which, unfortunately have started to leave ink impressions on the opposite page, especially those in the back of the book) most of which are in color. It doesn't show trench lines or anything like that and there are really only two maps that are devoted to the war itself, nor are you going find complete orders of battle in it. However, it is a great example of propensity towards morbid curiosity (admit it you slow down when you are passing a wreck on the side of the road to look). Of course all that is just interspersed with the main goal of the book which is where to go and what to see. So there are far more sections like this:
"20. Amiens.
     Amiens (93,207 inhab.), the old capital of Picardy, famous for its historical associations and for its cathedral, is the chief town in the department of the Somme, and is important as a centre of the French textile industry and as a railway junction. The canalized Somme, which is joined by the Avre just above Amiens, flows in many branches through the lower or N. part of the town. The central and older quarter, by far the most interesting, in enclosed on three sides by wide boulevards marking the site of ancient ramparts..."

This book is written both as a tourist guide to the region as well as to the War. From my perspective this book really starts to put the war or the features of the war in real context with the environment it was fought over. You get a feel for what places like Amiens, Ypres and Passchendaele may have meant to the people that lived there. This time around I'm going to properly shelve this book so I can find it when I decide to finally paint that second squad of WWI US Marines (or maybe I'll do a support unit for the 1st squad).
If you happen to stumble across a copy (although the only two I could find on line were going for $72 - $80) its well worth thumbing through especially if you have any interest in WWI.

Edited: I thought I would add this passage out of the book:
     Visits to the battlefields should be paid between March and October; during the winter months the by-ways are apt to be impassable. It is not yet superfluous to warn the visitor to be careful in walking among or handling the debris of the War. It should be superfluous to remind him that the ground he is visiting is holy ground, consecrated by the heroism and the grief of nations.
     With the aid of the information in this handbook and its copious index the traveller should have no difficulty in planning for himself a route, whether to the great battlefields or to the particular spot with which he has special associations  and in forming an estimate of his expenditure of time and money. But at present it is advisable to transfer the task to one of the numerous agencies (comp. p. lxxiii), which organize private or combined tours, undertaking every function from the obtaining of the necessary passports onwards.
     No trenches or fieldworks are being preserved in their warlike state, but sites for British and Overseas memorials have been selected (by arrangement with the French and Belgian governments) on many battlefields. Battle-monuments which have been already erected are mentioned in our text.

Front Page, the large map is on the left side of this.
Region Map, As you can see, much more than just Belgium

A close up of the Region map, just happened to center on Lille for this one.
The Western Front Battlelines map
 One of the many small city maps, Calais
A detailed Region Map, here the Belgian Coast


  1. Replies
    1. Its a really great little book. I kind of glossed over the two sections on the British and the American operations but those are a couple of the best summaries of operations I have read in a long time. If you find one some where I would snap it up.

  2. Replies
    1. Yes, yes it is and its all mine. Don't worry I'll put it in a safe place, although I'll never see it again if I do that.