THE WESTERN FRONT IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
These are links to a selection of online resources about the war on the Western Front during the First World War (WW1) that I found most useful when editing the letters of Wilbert Spencer and Harry Norton. I have also begun to add resources for the US and Canadian soldiers who fought on the Western Front but whose letters I have yet to start editing. Other relevant resources can be found under the pages for each country.
The Long, Long Trail has a characteristically excellent overview of the war on the Western Front along with summaries of all the major battles.
The Western Front Association cover a lot more than just the war on the Western Front, but they do have numerous, short, well-written articles about this part of the conflict.
OFFICIAL HISTORIES [top]
Unlike Britain, where the official histories are sold as a boxed set DVD for £225, other countries have seen it important to make their official histories freely accessible online.
There are four volumes of the official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 covering the Western Front:
Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, by G.W.L. Nicholson, the official Canadian history, is available as a free PDF (35 MB) It includes chapters on the Battles of Ypres 1915, the battles of the Somme July-November 1916, the battle of Vimy Ridge 1917, the capture of Hill 70 1917 and Passchendaele October-November 1917.
The United States Army in the World War 1917–1919 has six volumes dedicated to the fighting on the Western Front. They are all available as quite large PDFs. Less a narrative history, they are more a compilation of documents relating to different operations.
Volume 4 starts with the first American action at Cambrai in November 1917 and ends with the MontDidier–Noyon operation in June 1918. (35 MB)
Volume 5 covers the operations in Champagne-Marne and Aisne-Marne from mid July 1918 until the beginning of August. (26 MB)
Volume 6 describes the events at Oise-Aisne and Ypres-Lys. (21 MB)
Volume 7 covers the Somme Offensive in September 1918. (40 MB)
Volume 8 covers St-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. (12 MB)
Volume 9 continues with Meuse-Argonne and ends with the armistice. (25 MB)
New Zealand didn’t have an official history as such but their officially sanctioned popular history series contains a number of books that focus on events on the Western Front.
New Zealand Division 1916-1919, The New Zealanders in France, by Colonel H Stewart is the closest to an official history of New Zealand on the Western Front.
Military Operations – France and Belgium, 1914, Vol. 1 is the only volume of the British official history series dealing with the war on the Western Front that is available online. It covers events from August–October 1914. It has been made available by the US/Canadian Archive.org.
OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS [top]
The British National Archives have recently digitised the war diaries of the first three cavalry and the first seven infantry divisions of the British Army in the First World War. Searching is free but a small charge is made to download the documents.
Some British government cabinet papers covering events on the Western Front including the Somme, Arras, Third Ypres, Cambrai, the German Offensive and Amiens are also online.
Project Gutenberg have over twenty-five books about various aspects of the war on the Western Front all available free in a variety of formats.
Their collection includes:
The First One Hundred Thousand by John Hay Beith, who served as a 2nd lieutenant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, is a semi-fictionalised account that takes a humorous look at his battalion’s training and their first months in France. It quickly became a bestseller.
1914, the memoir of General French, commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France from August 1914 until pressure forced him to resign in December 1915 following the appalling losses at the Battle of Loos. This memoir covers the early period of the war.
How I Filmed the War the wartime memoir of Geoffrey H. Malins, one of the official War Office ‘kinematographers’.
There are many collections of letters from the Western Front. This is just a small selection that I found most interesting when editing Wilbert Spencer’s letters, which cover the first months of the war.
In Happy Memory: His letters from France and Flanders, October 1914-August 1915 are the letters of Denis Barnett, a young British officer, similar in many ways to Wilbert, whose character leaps from the pages of his letters.
Letters From Flanders are the letters of G.A. Gillespie, a 2nd lieutenant with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. His detailed letters to his family cover the time from his arrival in France in February 1915 until his death in September of the same year.
Letters Written From the English Front in France Between September 1914 and March 1915 by E Hulse is a collection of letters packed with incident and detail from a captain in the Scots Guards that cover the period from the retreat at Mons in August 1914 up to just before his death at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the same battle in which Wilbert Spencer lost his life.
War Letters of a Public Schoolboy is based on the letters of Paul Jones, who attended Dulwich College at the same time as Wilbert Spencer. Following his son’s death, Paul Jones’ father compiled this book as a tribute to his son. The first half of the book is about life at Dulwich, the second half is based on Paul’s letters when he went to fight on the Western Front.
The British Library Electronic Theses Online Service has a number of Ph.D theses about various aspects of the war on the Western Front that can be directly downloaded from their site. Registration for the service is required, but this is free.
British Cavalry on the Western Front 1916-1918, Kenyon, David (Ph.D, Cranfield University, 2008)
British Generalship on the Western Front in the First World War, 1914-1918, Robbins, Simon Nicholas (Ph.D. King’s College, University of London. 2001)
The British Infantry and Atrocities on the Western Front, 1914-1918, Hodges, Paul Dominick (Ph.D, Birkbeck ,University of London, 2007)
The British Infantry Officer on the Western Front in the First World War: with special reference to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Kang, Changboo (Ph,D. University of Birmingham, 2007)
The Evolution of the British Army’s Logistical and Administrative Infrastructure and its Influence on GHQ’s Operational and Strategic Decision-making on the Western Front, 1914-1918, Brown, Ian Malcolm (King’s College, University of London, 1996)
The German Army on the Western Front, 1914-1918, Sheldon, John Aitken (Ph,D., University of Westminster, 2011)
The Operational Role of British Corps Command on the Western Front, 1914-18, Simpson, Andrew (Ph.D., University College London, 2001)
A Muse of Fire: British Trench Warfare Munitions, Their Invention, Manufacture and Tactical Employment on the Western Front, 1914-18, Saunders, Anthony James (Ph.D., University of Exeter, 2008)
The Theory and Practice of Tank Co-operation with Other Arms on the Western Front During the First World War, Hammond, Christopher (Ph.D, University of Birmingham, 2005)
WW1 Maps and Aerial Photography has the best online collection of war maps. Provided by McMaster University, Canada, the site has over 400 detailed contemporary maps and 500 aerial photographs of the Western Front. High resolution images allow zooming to reveal very small details.
West Point Military Academy in the US also has twenty-five good maps showing battle positions at very times and locations during the war on the Western Front.
British Pathé has over 40 films specifically about the Western Front but also more films under its sections of “Trench Warfare”, “The Somme”, “Ypres”, “Artillery”, “Americans in WW1”.
The European Film Gateway provides access to a vast number of films from various archives in Europe about the war on the Western Front. You need to look under “WW1 Topic” where you will find a section for the Western Front.
The Imperial War Museum has over 9,000 images of the Western Front 1914–1918 that can be viewed online. Use the search term “western front” and then filter the results by Media then Image.