Book Review: The Somme Chronicles: South Africans on the Western Front, 1916


by Chris Schoeman

Capte Town: Zebra Press Random House / Herndon, Va.: International Publishers Marketing, 2014. Pp. xvi, 140. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $20.00 paper. ISBN: 1770226761

South Africa’s Contribution to the Western Front

Although apparently quite well-known in South Africa, the fact that the country sent an infantry brigade to the Western Front is likely to be news to most students of the Great War. In The Somme Chronicles, South African journalist and historian Schoeman gives us an account of the service by the 1st South African Brigade. 

Schoeman opens with a short account of South Africa’s role in the war, including the Boer Rebellion of 1914-1915, operations against German Southwest Africa and German East Africa, and in the RAF . 

Schoeman then covers the formation of the expeditionary brigade for the Western Front in 1916. He follows the brigade to Europe, its service in northern France, primarily in the Battle of the Somme, during which it took heavy losses. The brigade also served in the Battle of Arras, at Passchendaele, and during the final “Hundred Days” offensive through to the Armistice. He concludes with an account of the return of the brigade to South Africa

Schoeman often uses excerpts of letters or diaries in his account, giving us the soldier’s eye view of the events. He provides a number of useful appendices, such as a roll of honor, coverage of specialized troops, including signals, medical, and railroad, and a particularly interesting one on the role of Black South Africans in the war. 

This is a good book about a small, but interesting part of the Great War.

Note: The Somme Chronicles is also available as an ePub 978-1-77022-677-7 and pdf 978-1-77022-678-4

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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