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April 02 , 2010

Under Four Flags for France: the Life and Times of George Clarke Musgrave


George Clarke Musgrave introduces his fifth book, a graphic, straightforward history of the war on the Western Front, with a note that the book was written at the suggestion of an American officer who, on his arrival in France, found that he could not gain a meaningful perspective. A keen student of the world war, he had followed its phases in the newspapers and the imposing array of war books. But when he reached France, he found that, by concentrating primarily on the great events, public attention had been shifted to and from different episodes in the far-flung areas of conflict, until the overall canvas had become too large to comprehend.

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Based mainly on personal observation, however, “Under Four Flags for France” has the advantage of being written by a war correspondent of no ordinary ability; a man who describes himself as “a Briton by birth and an American by adoption,” and is certainly not lacking in perspective. Through his vivid, accurate and illuminating narrative, our author draws his pictures with an eye to the diplomatic reasons behind the plans of war, the great sweep of armies as they manoeuvre for advantage, and the effect of the life and death decisions of Generals on the fighting man and on the civilian population.

Supported by facts gathered from many sources including: the trenches, bivouacs, hospitals, military briefings, despatches, dug-outs and observation points, he writes of the invasion of Belgium and of the Allied effort to break the German lines as only a man who knows military life intimately, and has seen war all over the world, could describe them. With a focus on the eagerness of the Allied troops to come to grips with their enemy, we are shown the concerted unravelling of the German armies, the long deadlock at the front, and the virtues, the defects and the successes of the offensive strategy that ultimately checked the German menace.
In essence this is a vibrant and exciting story of the war, tinged with human interest, with a central theme depicting the ways in which the super-strategy of Germany to extend her frontier straight across France to the mouth of the Seine, was defeated with simple strategy and super-tactics which foiled the invasion and wrecked all chances of a German victory.

The closing pages outline the influence of the two ultimate challenges to Germany’s planned dominance; the thunder of the new British guns in Belgium, and the arrival of the American Army in Europe, ready for attack.

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