Behind the Front

Behind the Front : British Soldiers and French Civilians, 1914-1918

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Until now scholars have looked for the source of the indomitable Tommy morale on the Western Front in innate British bloody-mindedness and irony, not to mention material concerns such as leave, food, rum, brothels, regimental pride, and male bonding. However, re-examining previously used sources alongside never-before consulted archives, Craig Gibson shifts the focus away from battle and the trenches to times behind the front, where the British intermingled with a vast population of allied civilians, whom Lord Kitchener had instructed the troops to 'avoid'. Besides providing a comprehensive examination of soldiers' encounters with local French and Belgian inhabitants which were not only unavoidable but also challenging, symbiotic and uplifting in equal measure, Gibson contends that such relationships were crucial to how the war was fought on the Western Front and, ultimately, to British victory in 1918. What emerges is a novel interpretation of the British and Dominion soldier at more

Product details

  • Online resource
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 49 b/w illus. 4 maps 37 tables
  • 1139020382
  • 9781139020381

Review quote

'Although the front became increasingly militarized and the [local people] removed either by their own choice or forcibly, they continued to play a vital part in the billeting, feeding, entertainment and [care] of the troops. It is a little curious, then, that the relationship between the two does not seem to have been explored too much by historians. Craig Gibson's Behind the [Front] is an excellent corrective and goes a long way to fill the gap ... It adds much to our understanding and is a good read. I recommend it.' Chris Baker, The Long, Long Trail ( 'Hellish trench warfare was only one part of World War I soldiers' experiences ... Drawing on official archives, letters, diaries, memoirs and even survivors' novels, the book tells of liquor-filled Belgian chocolates that got around alcohol bans; prostitution, within and outside brothels that had official approval, that spread sexually transmitted diseases; civilian thefts of military supplies; and mutual suspicions fueled by language barriers and property damage.' Allan Wallace, 'Gibson is to be congratulated for bringing back the French and Belgian character of the British sector of the Western Front.' Jay Winter, The Times Literary Supplement '... a vivid account of life out of the trenches ... Gibson reminds us that the mud, blood and sacrifice of the trenches was just one aspect of the British experience of the Western Front.' Stephen Brumwell, The Wall Street Journal 'Gibson's work incorporates an impressive array of primary and secondary sources and does an excellent job of illuminating the most overlooked side of World War I.' Ellen J. Jenkins, Choice '... Craig Gibson paints a fascinating picture of the relations of the British and Commonwealth forces with the inhabitants of the towns and villages in whose homes they were billeted, whose land they used for training and sport, and in whose cafes and estaminets they relaxed ... densely researched and very readable ... [this book] commendably fills a gap.' Martin Bennitt, Great War Forum ( 'Gibson's portrayal of the complexity of relations between the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and local populations is excellent, and should appeal to military historians and lay readers alike owing to his accessible language and descriptive writing style. For those seeking to expand their understanding of the operational challenges faced by the BEF regarding the civilian populations of France and Belgium, it is a thorough and important contribution to the Western Front experience.' Christopher Schultz, Journal of Military History '... this book would be a welcome addition to the reading lists of all civil affairs officers and those military professionals who wish to understand the challenges of operating in the 'human terrain'.' Lt Col Richard S. Faulkner, Military Reviewshow more

About Craig Gibson

Craig Gibson has published widely on Allied relations in the First World War and the role of military discipline in troop/inhabitant relationships. He has received awards from the Historial de la Grande Guerre, Peronne, Somme; the Australian War Memorial, Canberra; and the Camargo Foundation, Cassis, more

Table of contents

Introduction; Part I. Mobile Warfare, 1914: 1. The first campaign; Part II. Trench Warfare, 1914-17: 2. Land; 3. Administration; 4. Billet; 5. Communication; 6. Friction; 7. Farms; 8. Damages; 9. Money; 10. Discipline; 11. Sex; Part III. Mobile Warfare, 1918: 12. The final campaign; Conclusion; Epilogue; Appendices; more