Fire and Movement: The British Expeditionary Force and the Campaign of 1914 Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
The dramatic opening weeks of the Great War passed into legend long before the conflict ended. The British Expeditionary Force fought a mesmerizing campaign, outnumbered and outflanked but courageous and skillful, holding the line against impossible odds, sacrificing themselves to stop the last great German offensive of 1914.
A remarkable story of high hopes and crushing disappointment, the campaign contains moments of sheer horror and nerve-shattering excitement, pathos and comic relief, occasional cowardice and much selfless courage - all culminating in the climax of the First Battle of Ypres. And yet, as Peter Hart shows in this gripping and revisionary look at the war's first year, for too long the British part in the 1914 campaigns has been veiled in layers of self-congratulatory myth: a tale of poor unprepared Britain, reliant on the peerless class of her regular soldiers to bolster the rabble of the unreliable French Army and defeat the teeming hordes of German troops. But the reality of those early months is in fact far more complex - and ultimately, Hart argues, far more powerful than the standard triumphalist narrative.
Fire and Movement places the British role in 1914 into a proper historical context, incorporating the personal experiences of the men who were present on the front lines. The British regulars were indeed skillful soldiers, but as Hart reveals, they also lacked practice in many of the required disciplines of modern warfare, and the inexperience of officers led to severe mistakes. Hart also provides a more accurate portrait of the German Army they faced - not the caricature of hordes of automatons, but the reality of a well-trained and superlatively equipped force that outfought the BEF in the early battles - and allows listeners to come to a full appreciation of the role of the French Army, without whom the Marne never would have been won.
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|Listening Length||18 hours and 39 minutes|
|Narrator||Tim Gerard Reynolds|
|Audible.co.uk Release Date||06 January 2015|
|Best Sellers Rank|| 38,210 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
418 in Great Britain History (Audible Books & Originals)
528 in Military History of World War I
562 in History of Western Europe
Top reviews from United Kingdom
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It did, therefore, cause me a certain degree of discomfort to learn that Hart’s latest book on the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 purported to take a similarly revisionist bent. I’ve had an interest in the BEF of 1914 from a very early age, and was practically raised on the British military legend of ‘The Old Contemptibles’, having watched and read content by the late Richard Holmes, as well as Lyn MacDonald, John Terraine, David Ascoli, and Tim Carew et al. For me, the BEF has always been the vaunted ‘Rapier Amongst Scythes’, the ‘Best Trained and Best Equipped Army Ever Sent Forth to War’, and the ‘Contemptible Little Army’ that regularly punched above its weight and threw the Schlieffen Plan into disarray. As a consequence, I was placed in the position of being subjected to a work by a capable author, which undoubtedly sought to undermine something which had a great degree of emotional resonance with me. Nonetheless, I purchased ‘Fire and Movement’ and prepared to have my long-standing preconceptions challenged. As Cardinal John Henry Newman once said: 'The energy of the human intellect does from opposition grow.'
Fire and Movement is indeed a revisionist work, and I can confidently assert that it largely succeeds in its aim. The great strength of the book derives from Hart’s position as the Oral Historian of the Imperial War Museum. As a consequence, the sheer amount of primary source accounts he has managed to provide not only substantiates every argument made, but never fails to remind the reader of the human element of the conflict in their pathos, humour, and often downright harrowing detail. Traditional histories of the BEF of 1914 have always had a ‘guts and glory’ take on the first few months of the war – all mad minutes and courageous last stands - but the first-hand accounts in Fire and Movement leave the reader in no doubt as to the hellish depredations experienced by the British Regulars, in particular by the sheer destructive power of the German artillery on both body and mind. In this, Hart really takes a lot of lustre off the old British Military legends without descending into the realm of polemic, for which other authors such as Terence Zuber have been criticised. Another great strength of the book lies in the sheer number of German sources, which are plentiful and again provide substance to Hart’s arguments as well as balance to the overarching narrative. I was always under the impression than the archives in which these sources were held were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, and their presence truly marks Fire and Movement apart from other related works in its uniqueness and academic rigor. Finally, Hart succeeds in relating a facet of the BEF that has only really been explored in specialist military history works, such as ‘Stemming the Tide’ (Spencer Jones et al.) - namely the untried and untested nature of the Command and Control aspect of the British Expeditionary Force of 1914, and all of the concomitant effects of the performance – and at times survivability – of the British Army in the field. The Commander in Chief does not come off well. Sir John French, although personally brave, did not have the temperament to command the BEF in an administrative capacity. At Corps level, Smith-Dorrien and Haig do as best as they can given the mercurial quality of overall British command, with the latter really shining during the defence of Ypres. Hart is justifiably favourable in his assessment of Haig, and does not spare in the foreshadowing of his future achievement of turning the BEF from a global gendarmerie into an all-arms field army with the technology and resources required to defeat the Germans on the Western Front.
A minor criticism of Fire and Movement takes the form of one of the old British military myths identified and subsequently attacked by Hart – namely the reputation of the French Army as an ‘unreliable ally with poor quality troops’. I must confess that from my previous reading (albeit from established works), I’ve never seen these accusations applied wholesale to the French Army in 1914, which was courageously led at the sharp end in face of horrific casualties, and had commanders of great resource such as Joffre and Foch. I’ve only ever read disparaging remarks about French arms being applied to General Lanrezac , and even then by Sir John French, with whom he had a notoriously bad natured and uncooperative relationship. As a consequence, I felt that Hart may have set up not quite a straw man, but at least a small bushel in this regard. I may of course be wrong, but can’t quite shake this impression.
In sum, Peter Hart’s Fire and Movement is an essential corrective to the old British Military myths surrounding the original BEF and the campaign of 1914, and is a deeply valuable contribution to the historiographical canon. It manages to place the BEF of 1914 in its appropriate historical context without embellishment, yet also pays tribute to skill, adaptability, and endurance of the men of the Old Regular Army who were thrust into a truly apocalyptic conflict without precedent. I’d urge anyone – even the most dyed-in-the-wool Old Contemptible-phile - to give it a read.
The first battle of Ypres leading to the Christmas truce.
The book is certainly well written revisionist work, beautifully researched, well thought through and logically presented in comfortable to read prose. The author's opinions are fresh, well presented and very sound. As has become traditional with these books, you get generals thoughts and soldier's experience in equal measure.
The author regularly peeps over the parapet to give us the writings of common German soldiers or junior officers. Occasionally you are fed with a whisp of French strategy or Belgian struggles- but to suppose you will see inside their world more than the British point of view is quite an over interpretation of the promotion pitch. But to suppose an author could even begin to lay on this extensive depth and detail is probably very over optimistic. In all probability the advert blurb is a touch generous in the wording to inspire the shopper, and I guess I expected way, way too much here.
It gives us an excellent fresh look into a popular subject and explodes the old myth that Britain saved the world in 1914. And as promised, far more than other authors to date, it certainly does put British involvement into more of a context, and gives a look into the other nations involved- to help with respect to understanding the British position more accurately without the cloud of legend.
For all the reasons of what the book does show, and the author's honest and well founded case, I heartily recommend this book, and if you choose one book to explore 1914, then let it be this.