What a Book This Is: Passchendaele: A New History by Nick Lloyd
Passchendaele: A New History (Penguin, 2017). Cover by Jeremy Sancha
What a book this is. An absolutely brilliant new assessment of one of the hardest and bloodiest battles ever fought. The engagement, technically Ypres III, popularly called Passchendaele, which was launched to capture the U-boat pens on the Belgian coast, and pitted the British Expeditionary Force (including divisions from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa) and parts of the French Army against the forces of the German Empire, lasted from June to November 1917, took place in a landscape from Hell, and claimed over half a million casualties. Nick Lloyd’s new book takes a number of different perspectives on the battle and tells many untold stories.
We get POVs from everywhere, including the High Command, the Royal Flying Corps, the politicians in London and of course, the mud-spattered Tommies in the teeth of the maelstrom. It’s a very accessible and informative read, painting vivid pictures of bitter hand-to-hand fighting for possession of railway heads, blockhouses, bunkers and trenches. It brings you closer than you could imagine to the terror of unrelenting shellfire, flame-throwers, poison gas and machine guns, but it isn’t all a story of doom.
Lloyd clears the names of several senior officers who have long been berated for employing what to modern eyes looked like Victorian tactics in a mechanized war, explaining how it was much more complex than many today realize. But when called upon, he uncompromisingly blames others at HQ for their discarding of the newer, more modern ‘bite and hold’ tactics for the sake of old-fashioned mass attacks.
Above all though, Passchendaele: A New History tells a tale of incredible courage in the face of horrendous odds. It’s always difficult to feel anything about World War One other than deep sorrow, but this book transcends that, putting you right there, and as well as bemoaning the mistakes and hardships and the bloody price paid, celebrating the indomitable spirit of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Flanders who fought one of the toughest campaigns in history with superhuman bravery and endurance.
Paul Finch is a former cop and journalist now turned best-selling crime and horror writer, and is the author of the very popular DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg and DC Lucy Clayburn novels. His short story “The Carrion Call” appeared in Black Gate 8.
Paul first cut his literary teeth penning episodes of the British TV crime drama, The Bill, and has written extensively in horror, fantasy and science-fiction, including for Dr Who. However, he is probably best known for his crime/thriller novels, specifically the Heckenburg police-actioners, of which there are seven to date, and the Clayburn procedurals, of which there are three. The first three books in the Heck line achieved official best-seller status, the second being the fastest pre-ordered title in HarperCollins history, while the first Lucy Clayburn novel made the Sunday Times Top 10 list. The Heck series alone has accrued over 2,000 5-star reviews on Amazon. Paul is currently with Orion Books, where he is writing a series of stand-alone thrillers.
Paul is a native of Wigan, Lancashire, where he still lives with his wife and business partner, Cathy. His last post for us was a review of The Forgotten Battle.