Wednesday, July 21, 2010

'Dark Journey' indeed..

I'm quite a fan of the work of NZ Historian Glyn Harper. I had bought and read his two books "Massacre at Passchendaele", and "Spring Offensive", but when 'Dark Journeys" was released I resisted, as it included these two books, plus what I simply understood as additional material. When I recently saw a copy on sale at a much reduced price I thought it might be worth buying a copy. I really should have read the Contents page more thoroughly when it first came out. The third part of the book is titled 'Bloody Bapaume', and what an eye opener it is.




Harper details what was in fact the bloodiest battle in which the NZ Division was involved on the Western Front, the taking of Bapaume in August 1918. His analysis is interesting, and not the least xenophobic. He details what he sees as the failings of the division at that time, not the least of which was the number of commanders who had been so recently promoted into their positions (in command of Brigades and Battalions) and so had little operational experience in their new positions, with units of these sizes. He also proposes that the Division came through as well as it did because Russell (operating at well below his own best at this stage, Harper suggests) had created what Harper calls a 'learning organisation' in which lessons were quickly learned, and in which men at all levels were willing to take control and resolve problems with which they were confronted without waiting for direction.

Haprer's analysis of casualties is interesting. He points out that Russell amongst others significantly understates the casualties that the division suffered in the battle, and is also able to show how badly the battle was reported in New Zealand, citing one newspaper that declared that Bapaume had fallen 2 days before it actually did.

I thoroughly recommend the book, even if purely for the account of 'Bloody Bapaume', and of course if you haven't purchased or read the earlier two books on Passchendaele and the Spring Offensive, then the book is an absolute gem. The book is published by Harper Collins, 2007.

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