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Behind the Front: British Soldiers and French Civilians, 1914–1918 (Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare)

Behind the Front: British Soldiers and French Civilians, 1914–1918 (Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare)

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Craig Gibson
Cambridge University Press, 3/27/2014
EAN 9780521837613, ISBN10: 0521837618

Hardcover, 480 pages, 22.8 x 15.2 x 3.3 cm
Language: English

Until now scholars have looked for the source of the indomitable Tommy morale on the Western Front in innate British bloody-mindedness and irony, not to mention material concerns such as leave, food, rum, brothels, regimental pride, and male bonding. However, re-examining previously used sources alongside never-before consulted archives, Craig Gibson shifts the focus away from battle and the trenches to times behind the front, where the British intermingled with a vast population of allied civilians, whom Lord Kitchener had instructed the troops to 'avoid'. Besides providing a comprehensive examination of soldiers' encounters with local French and Belgian inhabitants which were not only unavoidable but also challenging, symbiotic and uplifting in equal measure, Gibson contends that such relationships were crucial to how the war was fought on the Western Front and, ultimately, to British victory in 1918. What emerges is a novel interpretation of the British and Dominion soldier at war.

Introduction
Part I. Mobile Warfare, 1914
1. The first campaign
Part II. Trench Warfare, 1914–17
2. Land
3. Administration
4. Billet
5. Communication
6. Friction
7. Farms
8. Damages
9. Money
10. Discipline
11. Sex
Part III. Mobile Warfare, 1918
12. The final campaign
Conclusion
Epilogue
Appendices
Bibliography.

'Although the front became increasingly militarized and the [local people] removed either by their own choice or forcibly, they continued to play a vital part in the billeting, feeding, entertainment and [care] of the troops. It is a little curious, then, that the relationship between the two does not seem to have been explored too much by historians. Craig Gibson's Behind the [Front] is an excellent corrective and goes a long way to fill the gap … It adds much to our understanding and is a good read. I recommend it.' Chris Baker, The Long, Long Trail (1914–1918.net)

'Hellish trench warfare was only one part of World War I soldiers' experiences … Drawing on official archives, letters, diaries, memoirs and even survivors' novels, the book tells of liquor-filled Belgian chocolates that got around alcohol bans; prostitution, within and outside brothels that had official approval, that spread sexually transmitted diseases; civilian thefts of military supplies; and mutual suspicions fueled by language barriers and property damage.' Allan Wallace, triblive.com

'Gibson is to be congratulated for bringing back the French and Belgian character of the British sector of the Western Front.' Jay Winter, The Times Literary Supplement

'… a vivid account of life out of the trenches … Gibson reminds us that the mud, blood and sacrifice of the trenches was just one aspect of the British experience of the Western Front.' Stephen Brumwell, The Wall Street Journal