1914: Fight the Good Fight — Britain, the Army and the Coming of the First World War

Written by Allan Mallinson
Review by E.M. Powell

There have been many histories of the First World War, and the centenary of its outbreak will no doubt see several more released. In his book, Mallinson explores the political and military history of the century before the war, starting with the first treaty of Paris in 1814. This sets the scene for his detailed exploration of the first twenty days of fighting by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) against the Germans in France.

Mallinson has over three decades experience as a soldier and a staff officer, and this brings an authority and insight to his writing. He has clearly done extensive and meticulous research but his professional experience means he understands the psychology of soldiers of every rank. He uses first-person accounts from his research to great effect. During the fierce fighting on 24 August 1914 (known as ‘Shrapnel Monday’ because of the amount of shots fired), he quotes Captain Francis Grenfell of the Lancers: “We galloped about like rabbits in front of a line of guns, men and horses falling in all directions.”  Another recalls the relief of being soaked in a downpour after carrying fifty pounds of equipment in the relentless heat: “Good as a bath, and twice as refreshing.”

Mallinson’s writing style is fresh and vivid throughout. His own account of politicians assembling and arguing in the stifling offices of the secretary of state is as gripping as any novel, as are his accounts of battle. There is excellent use of battle plans in the book, and the supporting photographs and old cartoons are superb. Highly recommended as both an authoritative and accessible history of the period.