THE ROYAL MARINES ON THE WESTERN FRONT

Reviewed by: SIMON HAILL

This comparatively short book encompasses a little-known aspect of the history of the Royal Marines – namely their valiant service on the Western Front. From the mud of the Somme to the amphibious raid on Zeebrugge the RM fought in almost every element of the Great War. Today they are known world-wide as an elite commando fighting force, but this has only been their role since 1940.

Until 1923 they existed as two separate Corps – the Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI) and the Royal Marine Artillery (RMA), both serving with distinction on the Western Front. This book examines and explains the engagements in which they were involved, the equipment used and the organisation and training undertaken in considerable detail. It also covers their involvement with the RN Division, which despite being part of the Naval Service were employed as infantry battalions along the Western Front.

Each chapter deals with a specific area of operations for the RM – notably the Zeebrugge Raid which was a very early example of a most successful amphibious operation. In particular the RMA had a most varied war, moving from sea service (some fought at Jutland) to the trenches. The final chapter highlights the stories of notable personalities within the RMLI and RMA and their stories highlight the sheer scale of the RM involvement throughout so many notable elements of the Great War.

Especially poignant is chapter 7 – A Subaltern on the Somme which covers the life and death of Second Lieutenant Louis Stokes 2/RMLI at Ancre in 1916. This chapter recounts in great detail his leaving school in 1915, joining the RMLI, his training and service and subsequent active service. His death almost a year to the day after leaving school was representative of so many of his contemporaries. The photographs are extremely high quality and show the vivid contrasts between life in the various barracks and service on the front. The photographs of groups of men and individuals in particular are especially striking.

The author served in the RN for six years and is currently the Headmaster of Downside School. This book packs in a considerable amount of information covering all aspects of the RM participation on the Western Front. It would be especially useful to individuals wishing to conduct research or those who want a snapshot of this distinguished and costly part of RM history.