Title: In Flanders Fields
Author: Leon Wolff
Wolff, Leon (1958). In Flanders fields; The 1917 Campaign. New York, Viking Press
Date Posted: November 21, 2014
In Flanders Fields: The 1917 Campaign is a history of the 3rd Battle of Ypres by Leon Wolff published in 1958 with an introduction by Maj. Gen. J. F. C. Fuller, CB, CBE, DSO. The book is out of print and is quite a rare find, usually only in large public or university libraries. A re-edition of the book was included in the Time-Life Reading Program in 1963, with an additional introduction by B. H. Liddell-Hart.
The first chapter “The Deadlock” is a brief description of the causes and events of World War I leading up to the year 1917. It details the military plans of the year by the French, British and German High Commands with considerable references to the diaries and official histories of the commanders and countries involved, the press, journalists, historians and political figures. There are several maps and photographic plates of the battlefields in the book.
While Third Battle of Ypres is synonymous with mud, death, futility of battles and horrible conditions of warfare, the writings do not play on these experiences of the soldier in the field too much, but instead gives the reader a somewhat unbiased view of what was really occurring at the very top of the commands: the British Prime Minister of the day, Lloyd George, Sir Douglas Haig, Sir William Robertson, Robert Nivelle, Ferdinand Foch and others. There are short quotes from newspapers of the day and soldiers at the front, with brief but vivid sketches of the actual battlefield, while comparing this with the views at Headquarters (none of the commanders of the armies seems to have ever visited the front or even seen it through field glasses and could not relate to the conditions of the battlefield and the struggles of the men through the unrelenting mud, and thus assessed the situations incorrectly, especially Haig).
Sir Douglas Haig is shown to make large assumptions without proper intelligence about the German defenses, enemy resources of men and guns, or the conditions of the battlefield. Leon Wolff does not say these things specifically, but gives the readers the facts as presented in official minutes of meetings with Lloyd George and the War Cabinet and diaries of high officers and leaves the reader to unequivocally reach his own conclusion of the characters involved.
The book also details all the battles of 1917, from Nivelle’s offensive and the French Army Mutinies (1917), Messines Ridge, Poelcapelle, Menin Road, the village of Passchendaele (fought by the Canadian Corps) and Ypres. It ends appropriately with a sequel of the end of the careers, and life after of Sir William Robertson, Sir Douglas Haig and David Lloyd George, quoting a line of Siegfried Sassoon’s “On Passing the New Menin Gate” and ending finally with a passage of Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle which seems to truly explain the cause and reasoning of a war as horrible as World War I, if not all wars:
…there dwell and toil, in the British village of Dumdrudge, usually some five hundred souls. From these…there are successively selected, during the French War, say thirty able-bodied men: Dumdrudge, at her own expense, has suckled and nursed them; she has not without difficulty and sorrow, fed them up to manhood, and trained them to crafts, so that once can weave, another build, another hammer, and the weakest can stand under thirty stone avoirdupois. Nevertheless, amid much weeping and swearing, they are selected; all dressed in red; and shipped away, at the public charges, some two thousand miles, or say only to the south of Spain; and fed there till wanted. And now to that same spot in the south of Spain, are thirty similar French artisans, from a French Dumdrudge, in like manner wending: Till at length, after infinite effort, the two parties come into actual juxtaposition; and Thirty stands fronting Thirty, each with a gun in his hand. Straightway the word “Fire!” is given: and they blow the souls out of one another and in the place of sixty brisk useful craftsmen, the world has sixty dead carcasses, which it must bury, and anew shed tears for. Had these men any quarrel? Busy as the Devil is, not the smallest!… their Governors had fallen out; and, instead of shooting one another, had the cunning to make these poor blockheads shoot. Alas, so it is in Deutschland, and hitherto in all other lands… [p. 233]
This is one of books in The Time Reading Program (TRP) which I read in 1982-83. I found these books to be outstanding. The full list is found at Napoleon’s Russian Campaign.