Beaten Down by Blood sets the standard for historians

October 13, 2012

“an ambitious and exceptional contribution to our understanding of the Great War”


Stephen Matchett  From:The Australian October 13, 201212:00AM

Michele Bomford’s Beaten Down By Blood: The Battle of Mont St Quentin-Peronne 1918 (Big Sky Publishing, 294pp, $29.99) is a seriously good campaign history and not just because of its appealing subject. Certainly this fight was one of a string of Allied attacks that won World War I on the Western Front and as such was characterised by more movement and better tactics than the straightforward slaughters of 1916 on the Somme and 1917 in Flanders.

The under-strength and exhausted Australians under John Monash outsmarted and outfought the enemy in a battle that forced a wholesale German retreat at the start of September to their last defensive line.

Bomford provides a coherent narrative of the battle, no mean feat for any Western Front history (admittedly she has an advantage in that this fight was for an obviously important height, rather than flat and bloody fields).

But what makes it a success, and it is a considerable success, is the way Bomford puts the battle in context. She is well read in the politics of command, suggesting Monash was given his head by his boss, General Henry Rawlinson, who suspected the Australians were the only troops who could break through. She explains the formations, on both sides of the wire. And she describes the training and equipment that made the Australians, using British doctrine, so formidable. Running an attack took great administrative ability, literally under fire, and it was staff work that gave the infantry an edge.

The book’s great strength is the way she explains the success of the Australians – this is still contested ground between historians and Aussie-oi-oi-oiers who inflate Anzac achievements.

Bomford comes down on the side of the scholars, demonstrating the Australians did so well because they were well trained, well disciplined in the field and enormously resilient, rather than natural warriors.

Along with David Cameron’s recent book on the Lone Pine offensive on Gallipoli, Bomford sets a standard for the mass of centenary histories of the AIF to come. It is a high one.

Beaten Down by Blood is available nationally in paperback instore or online | Worldwide as an ebook – Amazon & Apple Ibook.

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