In four and a half years of fighting on the Western Front during the First World War a few battles stand out from the rest. They had a decisive impact on the course of the conflict, and they still define the war for us today. For the French, the Battle of Verdun, fought between February and December 1916, was one of the greatest of these. That is why the selection of contemporary photographs Ian Sumner has brought together for this volume in the Images of War series is so important and revealing. They show the strained, sometimes shocked faces of the soldiers, record the shattered landscape in which they fought, and give us an insight into the sheer intensity of the fighting. At the time, and ever since, the battle has been portrayed as a triumph of French tenacity and heroism that is encapsulated in the famous phrase 'They shall not pass'. These photographs remind us, in the most graphic way, what that slogan meant in terms of the devastating personal experience of the men on the Verdun battlefield.
Ian Sumner is a prolific writer and researcher who specializes in local and military history. He has made a particular study of the French army and air force during the First World War, his many books on the subject including The French Army 1914-18, French Poilu 1914-18, First Battle of the Marne 1914, They Shall Not Pass: The French Army on the Western Front 1914-1918 and Kings of the Air: French Aces and Airmen of the Great War.