The annals of the First World War record the Argonne Forest as the epicentre of the famous Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918. The largest American operation launched against the Germans during the conflict. During 1914 and 1915 though, amidst the dense forest, French and Italian soldiers withstood the German assaults. All sides suffered horrendous casualties, as each sought to break through the lines.
The epic four-year campaign is the subject of Richard Merry’s vividly written account. His great-uncle arrived there in September 1914 and started corresponding with his family. Richard traces the stories of some of the men – and women – who became embroiled in the epic forest struggle which culminated in the cold, gas-filled autumnal mist of 1918 when the New Yorkers of the 77th ‘Liberty’ Division fought there. One of their number, Charles Whittlesey, and his ‘Lost Battalion’ held out against insurmountable odds. Sergeant Alvin York, the Tennessee backwoodsman and pacifist, overcame his religious convictions and wrote himself into American military history.
The story does not end there; the author describes the aftermath of war in the area – the lethal outbreak of Spanish flu, the reburial of the dead, the rebuilding of the villages and the replanting of the forest before the Germans invaded again in 1940.