Book Review: The Other Side of the Wire, Vol. I, With the German XIV Reserve Corps on the Somme, September 1914 - June 1916


by Ralph J. Whitehead

Solihull, Eng.: Hellion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2010. Pp. xiii + 606. Illus., maps, tables, notes, appends., biblio. $89.95. ISBN: 1906033293

Starting almost accidentally many years ago, Whitehead, an independent scholar with an interest in the Great War, started collecting material on the German Imperial Army’s XIV Reserve Corps, including pictures, documents, and artifacts, and over the past several years he has been using these materials to write a comprehensive history of the corps which will eventually cover three volumes.

In this first volume, Whitehead covers the formation of the corps on the outbreak of the war, and of its two principal components, the 26th and 28th Reserve Divisions, composed of a handful of regular troops and a large number of reservists from Wurttemberg and Baden.  Initially on the German left in Alsace, in September of 1914 the corps was transferred to the Somme, during the final days of the war of movement.   Whitehead gives us a detailed look at the life and work of the troops from their deployment to the Somme during the war of movement in the late summer of 1914 to the beginnings of trench warfare and then the often harsh daily grind of life at the front through to the eve of the great battle on the Somme in 1916. 

Whitehead supplements his narrative with first hand accounts from letters, memoirs, and unit diaries.  He often gives us very detailed looks at all aspects of the soldier’s life, from the daily routine of front line or reserve duty, to battles and patrols, changes in equipment and arms, burial details, interaction with prisoners-of-war and local civilians, home leave, and more, all set within the “Big Picture” of the war.  The work is liberally illustrated with drawings, maps, and photos, primarily from Whitehead’s collection; many of the images show young men who never grew older. 

This is a rich work, as it often provides little details of soldiering and the soldier’s life from the German perspective, usually overlooked in most English-language accounts.  So we learn about the benefits of going on patrol into “No Man’s Land,” religious services at the front, changes in uniforms and equipment, and quite a lot about weapons, tactics, trench construction, rations, and more.  

Whitehead’s numerous appendices cover changes in the composition of the corps, the archaeological recovery and identification of a dead soldier, expanded discussion of particular topics, such as the use of hand grenades, and the like, including the names of those killed in each period.

Whitehead’s The Other Side of the Wire is an outstanding achievement, and an essential read for anyone interested in the Great War or men at war.

A review of Volume II of The Other Side of the Wire is available  here .   Volume III will be published in 2015.

Note:  This work is also available in paperbac k, $35.00, ISBN  1908916893.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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