25 NOVEMBER 1932, Page 21

Battle Pieces

AN unpretentious volume from a country publisher, Captain Bugdale's personal account of two famous battles of 1917 must henceforth be included in that very small collection of War books which deserve to be read and re-read, because they tell simply what soldiers saw and experienced in action under modern conditions. Captain Bloem's The Advance from Mom is one of the very best from the German side. Captain Dugdale, though he had not Captain Bloem's experi- ence as a professional author, rivals him in narrating precisely What happened, without any irrelevant " literary " touches. " I never saw an officer drunk in action," Captain Dugdale saYs, "nor did I have any of the unpleasant experiences Which many authors of War books seem to have had, though I was in France for eighteen months." But his story is none the less interesting, and his sincerity is obvious. He was sent to the Somme late in 1916 and wallowed for a few weeks in the shell holes at Guillemont and Le Transloy before the Germans made their unexpected and methodical retreat. In August, 1917, as battalion intelligence officer, he took Part in the attack on Langemarck under Sir Hubert Gough. lie and his colonel made their headquarters in a captured " pill-box," where they were virtually isolated while the chaotic battle in the swamps raged for days. Captain Dugdale does not comment, but his plain tale is a sufficient condemnation of the strategy that wasted thousands of lives to no purpose in the Flanders mud,

In contrast to Langemarek, the Cambrai area was well chosen as the object of attack on November 20th, 1917, and the preparations for the surprise with tanks were admir- ably made. Captain Dugdale, now Brigade Intelligence Officer, was in a position to see exactly what happened, and his account of the advance is peculiarly valuable. He says that at 10.40 a.m. he could see sonic tanks entering Marcoing while others were climbing the Flesquieres ridge, so that our men were right through the Hindenburg line. He sent hack the news at once to divisional headquarters, but it was not believed. Two hours passed before the cavalry received orders to advance—one of the delays that were to spoil the whole effect of the tank victory which, as it would seem, headquarters had never really anticipated. Captain Dugdale had the pleasure of inspecting a long stretch of the famous Hindenburg defences, and of talking to some of the French people in the captured. villages. Just as the Higher Command had failed to exploit the success, so it failed to guard against the counter-stroke that the Germans swiftly prepared and delivered on November 30th. His vivid chapter on that disastrous day, relieved only by the desperate valour of the Guards and 60th Brigade in retaking Gouzeati- court, virtually ends a most remarkable little hook. Captain Dugdale gives a few instructive photographs, one of them taken by a German airman of the tanks in action at Cambrai. Sir Hubert Gough contributes an appropriate introduction.