Logistics and the BEF: the development of waterborne transport on the Western Front, 1914-1916

  • Chris Phillips Leeds Trinity University


The historiography of logistics on the Western Front has been dominated by discussion of railways. Indeed, General Joffre himself was credited as having dubbed the First World War a ‘railway war’. However, the canals and rivers of France and Flanders were also pressed into action during the conflict. This article discusses the manner in which the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) actively engaged with and supported the work of Gerald Holland, a retired naval officer and Marine Superintendent, to establish an effective, ‘civilianized’ department of inland water transport on the Western Front. It illustrates that, even before the 1916 transportation mission led by Sir Eric Geddes, the British Army was not the insular institution its detractors – most notably Lloyd George – asserted.