The British Expeditionary Force of 1914 was described by the official historian as "incomparably the best trained, best organised, and best equipped British Army that ever went forth to war." The BEF proved its fighting qualities in the fierce battles of 1914 and its reputation has endured. However, the same cannot be said for many of its commanders, who have frequently been portrayed as old fashioned, incompetent, and out of touch with events on the battlefield.
Yet the officers who led the BEF to war were every bit as professional and hard-bitten as the soldiers they commanded. These officers had learned their craft in the unforgiving school of colonial warfare and honed their understanding of conflict in the period of reform that reshaped the army between 1902 and 1914. As this book reveals, when faced with the realities of modern combat, the officers of the BEF were prepared for the challenge.
This collection offers a broad picture of command at all levels of the BEF through a series of biographical essays on key officers. Drawing upon much original research, each chapter explores the pre-war background and experience of the officer and assesses his performance in combat in the opening months of the First World War. The book features insightful reappraisals of famous figures including John French and Douglas Haig, fresh studies of staff officers such as William Robertson and Henry Wilson, and a thorough discussion of officers at the sharp end, with chapters covering divisional, brigade, battalion and company commanders.
The essays reveal an officer class that, despite certain weaknesses, provided highly effective leadership during the chaotic fighting of August to November 1914. Without their influence it is unlikely that the BEF would have been able to survive the difficulties of the Great Retreat, much less halt the German invasions of France and Belgium.
This book will be of great interest to anyone who studies the First World War, and of particular value to those who seek a greater understanding of the British Army of the era.
List of illustrations
List of maps
Notes on Contributors
Introduction by Spencer Jones
1 Sir John French and Command of the BEF by Stephen Badsey
2 Major-General Sir Archibald Murray by J.M. Bourne
3 Henry Wilson’s War by Brian Curragh
4 ‘The big brain in the army’: Sir William Robertson as Quartermaster-General by John Spencer
5 The Making of a Corps Commander: Lieutenant-General Sir Douglas Haig by Gary Sheffield
6 Lieutenant-General Sir James Grierson by Mark Connelly
7 ‘A Commander of Rare and Unusual Coolness’: General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien by Spencer Jones and Steven J. Corvi
8 The Bull and the Fox Terrier: Edmund Allenby and Command in the BEF in 1914 by Simon Robbins
9 An Inspirational Warrior: Major-General Sir Thompson Capper by Richard Olsen
10 ‘A Tower of Strength’: Brigadier-General Edward Bulfin by Michael LoCicero
11 ‘The Demon’: Brigadier-General Charles FitzClarence V.C. by Spencer Jones
12 David Henderson and Command of the Royal Flying Corps by James Pugh
Command at the Sharp End
13 The Infantry Battalion Commanding Officers of the BEF by Peter Hodgkinson
14 The Company Commander by John Mason Sneddon
15 ‘Amateurs at a professional game’: The Despatch Rider Corps in 1914 by Michael Carragher
Appendix: British Expeditionary Force Order of Battle 1914
Nominated for the NYMAS Arthur Goodzeit Book Award 2013
Awarded second place for the SAHR Templer Medal 2013
Nominated for the ISG Special Award 2014. The ISG Special Award recognises the development of printed and electronic resources in a specific subject area.
“ … this volume is highly recommended on several levels – essential if your interest is the British Army in World War One; very desirable even for those with a more general interest.” Newsletter of the Society of Friends of the National Army Museum
"Spencer Jones has edited a wonderful series of essays detailing the leadersof 1914 and the decision making process that held the fate of a relatively small British field army that continues to enjoy mythical status today. His contributors have given me as much food for thought as they have factual knowledge." War History Online
“ … a valuable re-evaluation …” Stand To!
“ … well researched and highly readable portraits of BEF officers in the crucible of the opening months of the Great War. Any serious student of that conflict or of leadership and command in battle generally will enjoy and learn from the essays in Stemming the Tide.” Michigan War Studies Review
"... an outstanding examination of British military leadership at various echelons of command at the beginning of the Great War. This book definitely stands out - due to the consistent high quality of its essays, their depth of research, insightful analyses, and superb production standards - among the avalanche of books published to mark the centenary of the Great War. It definitely deserves a place on every military historian’s bookshelf.” International Bibliography of Military History
“ … an admirable overview of the combat challenges facing the BEF upon the outbreak of the First World War, and provides a welcome voice in the ongoing debate as to the manner in which those trials were overcome.” War in History
“ … Of great value to the reader is the frequent discussion of how post war memoirs shaped opinions about these officers, and the reputations of some of those who died before writing memoirs often suffered as a result. This is a valuable read for anyone interested in the first acts of the Great War, the British Army, and military leadership.” NYMAS Newsletter