Andrew Lucas & Jürgen Schmieschek, For King and Kaiser (Pen & Sword, 2020)
In For King and Kaiser, Andrew Lucas and Jürgen Schmieschek return to the Saxon army in the Great War that they first featured in Fighting the Kaiser’s War. They narrate the story of the war those soldiers experienced, using their words and photographs. The result is an absorbing account of men at war.
The chapters are preceded by a useful commentary on the text and photographs to follow. This begins with the introduction of trench warfare in 1914 as the Saxons settled in for their long war. We soon join the fighting in Ploegsteert Wood and First Ypres complete with maps, drawings, and first-hand accounts, one of which relates the story of the Christmas ‘truce’. We are also introduced to some of the Saxon soldiers through brief biographies. Diary entries linked by explanatory text, take us into Second Ypres. Life in the rear areas is also given its due coverage. We enter 1916, which is signaled by the photographs of well-constructed German trenches, far removed from the desperate scrapings of 1914. Canadian sources are introduced as the Saxon opponents to provide a more rounded picture, and the authors add another layer to that by discussing the barren and depressing environment the men fought in as the war continued into 1917 and the Third Battle of Ypres. Our authors again visit the Allied lines during 1917 to enhance our view of the fighting, then we are into 1918 and the crumbling German war effort despite the best efforts of the Saxons. The book concludes, fittingly, with a survey of remembrance and how the German post-war cemeteries were established.
This is a book that could have been a dud; there are no combat photographs, and the authors are considering a comparatively small section of the German army along a quite narrow front. The authors, however, do a remarkable job of extracting a considerable amount of information from their sources. The photographs and personal accounts are judiciously chosen and full of fascinating details. Even the posed unit photographs are laden with poignancy through being marked with little crosses to signify those killed in action. In addition, the modern photographs attach current readers to the experiences of those who fought and died. As an enthusiast of military history told from the ground up, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it.