Thursday, 31 December 2015

First World War favourite books 2015

My First World War favourites for 2015, are (so far, more to be included) :-

Dorothea's War: The Diaries of a First World War Nurse: Dorothea Crewdson and Richard Crewsdon (editor)

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars*****

Very few diaries or accounts of nursing in the First World War have survived, and if they did, many were unpublished, or retained by family members. No doubt there are a fair few lurking in various archives

Thanks to the nephew of Dorothea Crewdson, Richard Crewdson, who discovered and edited his aunt's diaries, we now have the pleasure of reading them. There is much that can be learned from reading this diary. Written by a young nurse, who started the diary as a newly trained Red Cross VAD in 1915; the diary chronicles her time during the subsequent years of the First World War, both at work and off duty. Written in an energetic, spirited and interesting way by someone who obviously had a good sense of humour. The diary also includes Dorothea's own drawings.

Sadly Dorothea died in March 1919 after contracting peritonitis, just before she was due to return home to England, which makes the diary an even more poignant read, knowing that as a reader you are in fact reading about the last events of a young girl's life. A valuable contribution to the social history of those times and a book that should be on the school curriculum.

Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars *****

This book was such a rewarding read. Kate Luard was in her forties in 1914 with experience of nursing during the Second Boer War. Kate enlisted in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve on August 6, 1914, two days after war was declared. She served in France & Belgium until 1918, first on the ambulance trains and then in Casualty Clearing Stations. She was awarded the RRC (Royal Red Cross) and Bar (rare distinction) and was twice mentioned in Dispatches for gallant and distinguished service in the field. The book tells her remarkable story through her own war diary and the prolific amount of letters to her family at home.

One of 13 children, Kate came from a loving and close-knit family. She wasn't a dewy eyed young girl shocked or overwhelmed by her experiences and what she was witnessing as some First World War nurses have been depicted in recent TV drama. This is really how it was and the family of Kate Luard have done a remarkable job in re-publishing Unknown Warriors, first published in 1930, now virtually impossible to obtain a copy of and including an extra chapter. 

Kate Luard was without doubt a talented writer. The book is so rich in descriptive detail, making it a most fascinating read. The scarcity of diaries or accounts written by trained military nurses during the 14-18 conflict means that this a rare and quite unique record chronicling the events of the lives, work and off duty of nurses on the Western Front. 

Anyone studying or researching the war would find this book to be an invaluable read and it should be on the required reading list for any student of First World War history, either in school or higher education.

Merseyside at War: Anthony Hogan

My rating 5 out of 5 stars *****

Anthony Hogan certainly knows how to research and his empathy towards the subject and those he writes about shines through in this very well researched book about Merseyside and Merseysiders in the two world wars between the years 1914-18 and 1939-45. 

Often heartbreaking, sometimes humorous, personal stories are included in this book along with detailed factual research from recognised sources.

Many residents of Merseyside lost their lives during both conflicts both in active combat and as a result of the heavy bombing inflicted on Merseyside during the blitz. 

As one of Britain's largest cities and a strategic sea port, Liverpool was heavily targeted during the second world war. The blitz of Liverpool isn't something mentioned too much in the media, when the subject of the second world war is featured, nor is it adequately represented in documentaries or indeed fictional representation of the war. Much more is reported and featured about the London blitz. This book more than redresses the balance.

An absorbing, fascinating read full of facts and personal stories, tragedy, hardship and courage, author Anthony Hogan has preserved the memory of many Merseyside men, women and children caught up in two terrible conflicts during the history of the 20th Century. I really hope to read more from this author. Anthony Hogan has certainly emerged as one of the best historians of Merseyside history in recent times.

The Quick and the Dead: Richard Van Emden

My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

After a dry spell of not reading any Great War related books, this was on my 'to read' list and I finally got around to reading it. Took a Kindle version with me to read on a battlefield trip to the Somme, but didn't get around to reading it until I returned and it was probably not the best time to read it as I was feeling very emotional about it all. Will buy a paper copy at some point as a 'keeper' for my bookshelves

An excellent book about an aspect of the war that has interested me for a while. The effect the war had on those left behind. I can see why the 'pebble in the pond' effect of this terrible period in time has rippled down through the years and had an impact on subsequent generations, including family members of mine

Thought I wouldn't be able to get past the part about Lily Baron, the ninety-eight year old lady visiting her father's grave at Bourlon Wood. 'He had been killed during the Battle of Cambrai back in November 1917 when she was just five years old. She left a little note on his grave, "Thank-you for five years of real happiness - I've missed you all my life' That really affected me, as did other accounts and I had to stop reading for a time.

There is a lot of previously unpublished source material from letters and diaries etc.
There is a chapter on The Missing and how so many were lost and remain so today and the heart-rending and fruitless search for family members for the loved ones who never came home.

It's easy to forget while researching individual service personnel that for every name, rank and number there were family members back home who suffered terribly because of their loss and not only emotionally but financially too. This bit sums it up for me, written by Private Stephen Graham '...For dying was not the hardest thing; the hardest thing was plunging one's home into sorrow.'

*We came across the grave of Roland Leighton by chance on a recent trip and the amount of crosses next to it drew our attention to it and then I remembered who he was

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