Book Review: S. Sandford, Neither Unionist or Nationalist, the 10th Irish Division in the Great War (Irish Academic Press, 2015)

S. Sandford's book, Neither Unionist Nor Nationalist available from Irish Academic Press

Stephen Sandford’s excellent book on the 10th (Irish) Division is an in-depth study of the unit’s formation, its social composition, leadership and its service in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Great War.

In 1918, Major Bryan Cooper’s closing sentence in his history of The Tenth (Irish) Division at Gallipoli stated that ‘Ireland will not easily forget the deeds of the 10th Division’.[1] However, as Dr Stephen Sandford points out in his new book, only a stained glass window in Derry City’s Guildhall exists in the land from which it took its title to denote its service.[2] The other Irish divisions, the 16th and 36th, with their identifications with Irish nationalism and Ulster unionism respectively, have attracted much more attention. Histories of both units have been published since the 1980’s but, for the past century, the 10th Division remained neglected by historians. Sandford’s new divisional account fills this omission.

The history covers the Division’s formation in August 1914, its Dardenelles action at Suvla Bay and, from 1917, its deployment to Palestine. The book is not a chronological institutional history of operations but an analytical narrative which sets the division in its societal and political context. For example, Sandford conducts a revealing study of the social and economic background of the officers who joined up in 1914/5.[3]

He also provides an interesting evaluation of the 10th’s experience by comparing it with the 13th (Western) Division. The 13th, like the 10th, was a K1 Kitchener formation that did not fight on the Western Front. For instance, he examines morale and discipline in the 10th and 13th, concluding that the 10th had greater disciplinary issues, reporting 68% more disciplinary offences than the 13th. Overall, Sandford concludes, that the 10th was a ‘solid, if unspectacular division’.[4]

Whether people will like this publication or not will depend on what they want from a divisional history. If they want one with an organisational focus structured into a linear timeline of battles, then this account is not for them. However, if people are after a history which sets the unit in its wider context and examines themes like leadership, then this is a must read. This book is academic and was based on Sandford’s PhD thesis and is probably the best modern divisional history I have read. It is available here.

[1] B. Cooper, The Tenth (Irish) Division at Gallipoli (London, 1918), p.256.

[2] S. Sandford, Neither Unionist or Nationalist, the 10th Irish Division in the Great War (Dublin,2015), p.1.

[3] Ibid., pp.45-70.

[4] Ibid., pp.147-191, 233.