Book Review The Canal Line - France and Flanders Campaign 1940 by Jerry Murland.

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Jonathan Ball, Apr 10, 2019.

  1. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    “There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end”

    Stirring stuff. What Jerry Murland has done with his latest in the Battleground Dunkirk series is to follow in a curving sweep the Canal Line, held so bravely by men of the BEF in the early summer of 1940, across the same ground fought over so tenaciously by that earlier BEF of 1918 which led Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig to issue his famous order and which continues to draw visitors to one or indeed both of the Battlefields from 1914-1940.

    This guide, put simply, is superb. Starting with an appraisal of the general situation in which the German Army sliced through a French Army described by Maxine Weygand as one which had “gone to war with a 1918 Army against a German Army of 1939” before coming upon both the ad-hoc units from the BEF thrown together by Lord Gort to protect his flank along with the regular Battalions which were available. It’s these Units whose fortunes we follow starting on the Channel Coast around Gravelines, through Watten and St-Omer before curving eastwards along the Lys to St-Venant and Merville.

    It was a near thankless task but someone had to do it, some more enthusiastically than others. Usherforce, Polforce, X and Y Forces all flamed briefly in to existence to meet the oncoming Germans. As Brigadier Edward Lawson surmised “I was commanding X-Force, which was news to me. Naming forces after individual commanders or letters is the first sign of the dissolution in an army”.

    What Murland takes the reader on though is the fight these men put up. It’s easy to follow due to a simple expedient. Not sure where the action is? Then merely turn to the back cover and a nicely annotated map awaits. It’s such a simple yet good idea. No thumbing through looking for a map if you’re on the ground.

    The fighting was at times confused but with the guide being lavishly illustrated it’s easy to orientate yourself and follow the action. You can stand on the exact spot where the Battalion HQ of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in St-Venant was established and ponder why Brigadier Dennis Furlong placed his men on the southern bank of the Lys thus removing it as a defensive barrier when the Germans attacked. It was a costly error. Of the 1000 or so men of the Fusiliers who crossed the Channel some 759 were reported killed, wounded or missing. Just 83 men made it home from a Battalion which to all intents and purposes had ceased to exist.

    The book concludes with a series of guided tours to follow, by either car or on foot. Contemporary photos and maps abound, graves of interest in the various CWGC cemeteries are noted. This is a benchmark for how guides should be.


    The Canal Line

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