Thursday, 7 July 2011

VCs of the First World War: 1914 - a book review

The Victoria Cross has something about it that's difficult to describe. Seeing one "in the flesh" can be an awe-inspiring feeling, and to meet a living recipient could well be an ambition that many share. The hold that the VC has over many means that it has countless books written about it (and has even spawned a book about the books written about it).

VCs of the First World War: 1914 is one of many books on the Victoria Cross, but I enjoyed this one more than others. Where some I have read in the past restrict themselves to the bare facts, this goes beyond the citation detail, and attempts to put each VC action into context. Small maps show the area each action happened in, and the VC action is explained as part of the main action. These were not isolated incidents - they took place within a larger battle or action, and this book shows that.

The biographies of the 46 men who won the VC in the opening months of the war are fairly detailed. Again, the action in which they won a VC was but one part of their life, and Gliddon paints a picture of what came before and (for those that survived) what came after.

There are a variety of tales here. There is hardship as one VC holder is found unemployed selling matches in the street, but there is also happy endings as many of the men lived full and happy lives. I enjoyed this aspect of the book - the First World War was four years out of a life that perhaps lasted for many decades and it's pleasing to get a sense of the full picture of someones life.

This book is one of a series of books looking at the VCs of the First World War which the History Press are reprinting. On the strength of this one I will certainly look out for the others.

VCs of the First World War: 1914 by Gerald Gliddon is published by The History Press, priced £9.99

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