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Reviews & Comments

The War Memoirs of Earl Stanhope

General Staff Officer in France and Flanders
1914-1918
by
Lieutenant Colonel Earl Stanhope, DSO, MC
Edited by Brian Bond

 

"I have frequently been struck by how little we still know about staff officers and staff work in the British Army on the Western Front. Earl Stanhope’s memoirs give valuable - and often opinionated - insights into these very issues. His writings are a very important contribution to the memoir literature of the First World War."

Gary Sheffield
Professor of War Studies
University of Birmingham
.

 

"Your wonderful book on Stanhope has arrived safe and sound" - Eton College Library

"The centenary of the Great War is only eight years away and we are gearing
up for anticipated exhibitions, conferences and publications between
2014-2018. Books such as yours will be a fine complement to the images."

Peter Harrington
Curator
Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection
Brown University Library

 

 

"This handsome volume contains an unvarnished and revealing account of personalities and events. Though Stanhope himself viewed his stint in the front line as a crucial experience which stood him in good stead when on the Staff, for the historian his time at corps is of greater interest. Staff memoirs are not terribly common, and at the corps level even less so. Apart from getting out to visit other formations, his work often seems to have consisted of routine office matters rather than the planning and decision-making which were the preserve of more senior officers. However, he attended enough meetings and conferences to form interesting (and at times idiosyncratic) views on a number of formations and their officers. These constitute the most interesting feature of the book, even though one may not invariably agree with them. Brian Bond has edited it painstakingly and backed his work up with a first-rate introduction. It is not a cheap book, but the production standards are outstanding and the design very attractive." – Dr. Andy Simpson, author of Directing Operations: British Corps Command on the Western Front 1914 - 1918; The Evolution of Victory and Hot Blood and Cold Steel.

 

The Bookseller

1 December 2006

Military history in limited editions

"Military history publisher Tom Donovan Editions is "set to launch", promising to offer collectors a "real alternative to the mass-produced articles that fill the shelves of the high street bookshops today."

 

"Feedback on your first book? One word, 'excellent' " - D.P., Eastbourne

"A very nice piece of book production" - P.S.M., Exmouth

"Congratulations on "The Memoirs of Earl Stanhope" I was very impressed with the book, and, must admit that it is one of the few books that I have read right through, put down for a few hours, and then started reading it again." - A.P., Essex

 

Review Highlights:

Peter Howson reviewed War Memoirs of Earl Stanhope in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research

“…offers an important insight into the life of the staff at a level of the BEF that has not always received enough attention… an important corrective to those who would make generalizations about the remoteness of the staff… Stanhope is an important figure… Never afraid to comment on those around him… Brian Bond has contributed an excellent introduction that sets the memoir within the life of its writer. The whole work has been produced to a very fine standard. This includes both dust wrapper and slip case… an elegant book that can be highly recommended.” See detailed review below.

Bob Wyatt reviewed War Memoirs of Earl Stanhope for Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association

"The Earl of Stanhope spent much of the Great War as a staff officer with Corps formations, and that is one of the reasons why this is such an important account… We are extremely lucky to have this most valuable record of the work of such a perceptive Corps Staff officer at the Front. Put in your order soon, as 300 copies will not last for long." See detailed review below.

Detailed Reviews

Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research

For his first offering, in a new series devoted to material from World War One, Tom Donovan has chosen to publish the war memoirs of the Earl Stanhope. Produced in its current form during the 1920s, it detailed his army service from 1914 to 1918. The attraction of the book is that it not only deals with his time serving with the 1st battalion The Grenadier Guards, between November 1914 and February 1915, but with his much longer time as a staff officer. Most of this service was at the headquarters of various Corps until posted to the Supreme War Council at Versailles, in January 1918. He remained there until, very unwillingly, in May 1918 he accepted office as an additional Parliamentary Secretary at the War Office, in the House of Lords.

The memoir offers an important insight into the life of the staff at a level of the BEF that has not always received enough attention. As such it is an important corrective to those who would make generalizations about the remoteness of the staff. Stanhope records numerous fact finding trips that took him and his colleagues into the trenches. As early as October 1915 he records taking the opportunity to fly over the St. Eloi area in order to experience what observers could see. He also felt that this would be a help when interpreting aerial photographs. Where he does support the view of the lack of sensitivity of certain sections of the staff is in his criticisms of GHQ. Much of Stanhope’s time was spent at V Corps. His first posting was as GSO 3. The first major crisis with which he was involved was the Second Battle of Ypres. His description of events subsequent to the German attack with its first use of gas, gives a good insight into what was required of the staff. As he commented, ‘Trying in many ways as trench life was, the life on the staff was more wearing, and after a prolonged crisis, more exhausting’ (p.23). The majority of his service was in the Salient, on which he became such an expert that he reluctantly stayed on rather than return to a battalion, although he was at Beaumont Hamel for the end of the Somme campaign. He remained there through the early part of 1917 before again returning to Ypres to share in the Third Battle of Ypres. His time at the Supreme War Council is of interest in the descriptions of the build-up and response to the German attack in the spring of 1918. He provided an excellent insight into the plans that were made to defend against what was seen as an inevitable attack. These were worked out with some degree of precision, including a ‘coefficient of value’ for the various forces. The low coefficient given to the Portugueses divisions was responsible for the decision to replace them. When the Germans became aware of this they attacked at that point. In Stanhope’s view their decision to divert troops to that point relieved the pressure in front of Amiens and allowed the Allies to hold the line.

Stanhope is an important figure because of the wide range of his connections. Never afraid to comment on those around him he included pen pictures of those with whom he worked, or came into contact. He was enthusiastic about his first Commander, Plumer; but less so of his replacement, Allenby. In between the battles there was time to talk about the life in a staff mess. He described elaborate practical jokes against some officers that were a feature of close personal relationships that developed. He also had political contacts that must, at times, have made him a subordinate of whom to be wary. His involvement with both the military and political scenes before the outbreak of war makes his comments on the events prior to the declaration of war of special interest.

The value of the book lies in the text. Brian Bond has exercised only the lightest of touches as editor. He has contributed an excellent introduction that sets the memoir within the life of its writer. This is supplemented by a note about Stanhope’s house at Chevening in Kent that he was later to bequeath for the use of future Foreign Secretaries. Bond has owned to some small corrections of errors, and the excision of, ‘…a few repetitious or dull passages,’ and some of purely family matters. Their deletion is not obvious. It might have been useful to have indicated where in the text they came. Footnotes have also been kept to a minimum; only senior officers are identified. This has helped to keep the text readable but some will miss the additional information that might have been provided.

The whole work has been produced to a very fine standard. This includes both dust wrapper and slip case. Such quality comes at a price and some members may find £75.00 to be too high. It is, though. an elegant book that can be highly recommended.”

Peter Howson

 

Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association

Tom Donovan, in association with Brian Turner, runs the most successful business in antiquarian and second-hand military books in the world. He knows about publishing too, having produced a number of new books already with the Strong Oak Press in the 1980s. This new venture selects important material which, in most cases, has not been published before. They will be fine books with specially commissioned dust wrappers, in slipcases, limited to only 300 copies. The contents will be important and the series is edited by the leading military historian, Professor Brian Bond. In his, Directing Operations: British Corps Commanders on the Western Front, Dr. Andy Simpson reminds us of significant gaps in our understanding of how the Corps worked as independent organisations. His work studied the day-to-day work of the comanders. The Earl of Stanhope spent much of the Great War as a staff officer with Corps formations, and that is one of the reasons why this is such an important account, here published for the first time. He reflects on how seldom generals and staff officers visited the trenches in the early days of the war. Even when he was with 1 Grenadier Guards in the trenches himself, the CO only came round about four times in the three-and-a-half months – usually at night. Later on, however, trench walking became an absolute craze and when he was with V Corps he criticises them for overdoing it by going into the trenches practically every day. Stanhope is free with both his praise and his criticism of the generals. He was fond of Plumer and Jacob, yet critical of Hunter-Weston (as were most people!), Milne, Smith-Dorrien and Allenby. In 1918 he joined the British staff on the Supreme War Council in Versailles and came home later that year to become Parliamentary Under Secretary at the War Office. We are extremely lucky to have this most valuable record of the work of such a perceptive Corps Staff officer at the Front. Put in your order soon, as 300 copies will not last for long.

Bob Wyatt