Paris-based journalist O'Shea walked the length of the Western Front of World War I during the summers from 1986 to 1995. The journey was a personal one: both his grandfathers had fought on the front lines. O'Shea began his journey in Nieuport, Belgium, and followed the remains of the trenches some 450 miles to the border of France and Switzerland. Because the tactics of war usually consisted of massed infantry assaults against machine guns and artillery, O'Shea doesn't provide much historical context. What does emerge from his narrative is a shocking description of what happened on the battlefields. Generals often began offensives that lost some 100,000 men in one monthonly to begin the same process the following month. Despite the talk of glory, the war came down to crushing personal losses. The author briskly moves the narrative along, though photographs comparing the battlefields la William Frassanito (Early Photography at Gettysburg, Thomas, 1995) would have been helpful. An engaging and thought-provoking work; recommended for history buffs.Mark E. Ellis, Albany State Univ., Ga.
A Canadian journalist who has walked the weary length of WW I's western front reports movingly on his experiences and more.
A Paris-based correspondent for Elle, Interview, and other periodicals, O'Shea began hiking the centerpiece combat zone of the so-called Great War almost by chance during the mid-1980s. The serpentine path (to which he returned time and again) begins around Nieuport on the Belgian coast, winds through the French countryside, and ends abruptly at the frontier of neutral Switzerland. Between the two extremes, the blood-soaked track of the trenches, from which Allied and German troops rose to slaughter one another by the millions during the 52-month conflict, twists through scores of storied venues. Cases in point range from Flanders (Ypres, Passchendaele) through Artois (Armentières, Arras, Vimy Ridge), Picardy, Champagne (Chemin des Dames, Reims), and Alsace-Lorraine (St. Mihiel, Verdun, the Argonne Forest). In his commentary as a tour guide, the author is by turns informative and censorious. Interspersing his point-to-point travelogue of abandoned redoubts, burial grounds, disputed barricades, monuments, museums, and ossuaries with short takes on the campaigns that earned hinterland villages a place in military history, he offers unsparing critiques of commanders on both sides of the fray (notably, Falkenhayn, Foch, Haig, Joffre, Nivelle, Pershing, and Pétain). O'Shea also recalls his two Irish grandfathers, who survived the senseless carnage (as soldiers of the British Crown), albeit at considerable cost in mental and physical pain. Antiwar by conviction at the start of his explorations, he's something very like a militant pacifist at the end of a decade-long journey.
A tellingly detailed account of a trek through yesteryear's killing fields, which unites past with present in affectingly evocative ways and with no small measure of art.