Now that the last veterans are gone, the First World War is now a completely historical subject—governed by archaeology and genealogy, battlefield tourism and military history. The anguish and privations are a bit further away, but there is still huge interest in the awful conditions and carnage endured by a generation of youth who sacrificed their lives for their country.
"The Old Front Line" is a phrase first coined by the poet John Masefield when he looked back on the battle of the Somme from a distance of just one year, in 1917, and speculated how the Western Front might look in the future. Stephen Bull’s copiously illustrated work—part travel guide, part popular history—a century on, answers his speculations. The main source material is new and contemporary photographs, as well as some from the intervening century. Taken together these provide a series of exciting vistas and informative details that tell the story of the battles and landscapes. Aerial photography, old and new ground shots—and in a few cases even images taken underground—provide an authoritative summary of the war on the Western Front.
Following an introduction that sets the scene and looks at the early stages of the war, eight chapters examine the Western Front geographically, looking closely at the main areas of fighting and what is visible today: not just the “iron harvest”—the scars left by trench and battle—but also the cemeteries, war memorials and statues that remind the visitor starkly of the loss of a generation.