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A Foreign Field [Paperback]

Ben Macintyre
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Aug 2010

A wartime romance, survival saga and murder mystery set in rural France during the First World War, from the bestselling author of ‘Operation Mincemeat’ and ‘Agent Zig-Zag’.

Four young British soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. Unable to get back to their units, they shelter in the tiny French village of Villeret, where they are fed, clothed and protected by the villagers, including the local matriarch Madame Dessenne, the baker and his wife.

The self-styled leader of the band of fugitives, Private Robert Digby, falls in love with the 20-year-old-daughter of one of his protectors, and in November 1915 she gives birth to a baby girl. The child is just six months old when someone betrays the men to the Germans. They are captured, tried as spies and summarily condemned to death.

Using the testimonies of the daughter, the villagers, detailed town hall records and, most movingly, the soldiers’ last letters, Ben Macintyre reconstructs an extraordinary story of love, duplicity and shame – ultimately seeking to discover through decades of village rumour the answer to the question, ‘Who betrayed Private Digby and his men?’ In this new updated edition the mystery is finally solved.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress (5 Aug 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0007395264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007395262
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ben Macintyre is a columnist and Associate Editor on The Times. He has worked as the newspaper's correspondent in New York, Paris and Washington. He is the author of seven previous books including Agent Zigzag, the story of wartime double-agent Eddie Chapman, which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award and the Galaxy British Book Award for Biography of the Year 2008. Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II, published in January 2010, is the thrilling true story of the greatest and most successful wartime deception ever attempted. He lives in London with his wife and three children.

(Photo credit: Jerry Bauer)

Product Description

Amazon Review

In A Foreign Field Ben MacIntyre has found another story from history's margins In two previous books, Forgotten Fatherland and The Napoleon of Crime, he focused on characters from the footnotes of history, creating compelling narratives from the stories of Nietzsche's sister and of a Victorian master criminal, brought it centre stage and constructed a very powerful drama of love, war and death around it. Robert Digby was a well-educated, middle-class private in the British Expeditionary Force at the beginning of World War I. In the very first month of the war, as the British, French and German armies surged back and forth across tracts of northern France, he became isolated behind enemy lines. When the fluid front lines of the war's first phase rapidly hardened into the murderous stalemate of the trenches, Digby and other British soldiers were permanently trapped in German-occupied territory. Seven, including Digby, took refuge in the small village of Villeret and were given shelter and assistance by the villagers. Under the noses of the German occupiers, they lived in Villeret for 18 months, masquerading as villagers. Relationships between the French peasants and the British soldiers grew strong. Digby fell in love with Claire Dessenne, the 19-year-old daughter of one of his protectors. In November 1915 Claire gave birth to Digby's daughter. Six months later someone in the village betrayed the men to the Germans. Digby and three others were captured, tried as spies and executed by firing squad. Digby's daughter, now in her 80s, still lives in northern France. Using her memories and those of other villagers, archive material and a handful of surviving letters by Digby (including one written to Claire only hours before his execution), Macintyre has produced a real-life story of the First World War as poignant and moving as Sebastian Faulks's novel Birdsong. --Nick Rennison --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


‘A simple and touching tale of self-sacrificing courage and love in war … turns into a page-turning mystery and a spy story worthy of Deighton or le Carre. I loved it’ The Times

‘I loved “A Foreign Field”, the true story of an English soldier stranded behind enemy lines … at once a great romance, a war story, a social history and a whodunit’ Sunday Telegraph

‘At the simplest level this is a love story. Stirring, ambitious and profound, this is storytelling at its very best’ Sunday Times

‘The true story of seven British soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, with brilliant research, [Macintyre has] built a powerful picture of what life was like for the Picardy villagers who protected them. I was fascinated’ Evening Standard

Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping 'whodunnit?' laced with wit 5 May 2004
By A Customer
I must admit that I much prefer first world war 'fiction' (as in 'Birdsong' or the 'Regeneration Trilogy') to factual events and when I bought this book I made the mistake in thinking that's what I was getting.However,I was very pleasantly surprised.
The story of the 'four Englishmen of Villeret' and their untimely betrayal(by whom?) makes gripping reading.I found myself concerned for the soldiers and villagers and the circumstances in which they found themselves and although I was aware of the fate that befell them, the ending was not ruined. This due to Ben MacIntyre's painstaking research and interviews with the descendents of all involved in 1916. He puts forward theories of the locals as well as his own, but ultimately the reader is left to make their own assumptions as to 'whodunnit?'
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intriguing and challenging 23 Nov 2001
By A Customer
Having greatly enjoyed Mr Macintyre's previous book on a master thief called Adam Worth I naturally took note when I saw this book on display in my local bookshop. Having read the preface I was in two minds since it said the book was about the First World War and I am not by nature inclined to read books on military affairs although I have read and enjoyed several novels set in wartime settings. I so enjoyed the book on Adam Worth I took a chance and bought the book and am very glad I did. Mr Macintyre makes many interesting and challenging points about the beast of war and its impact upon people and I was forced to think about issues which otherwise I might have not thought of. This is novel writing of a very good calibre since it uses the novel to make the reader think. Happily the author also finds room amidst all the important theories for a superb whodunnit. This kept me guessing until the final page. I am not going to give away the game here and spoil it for others but I recommend this to all lovers of crime books as well as those persons fascinated by war itself.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A War made real 23 July 2009
By Spartan
I bought this book for the 2nd time and received it yesterday. Around midnight last night, it was finished. I'm not sure that more needs to be said to describe the compelling true story contained within its pages; it's a well written, well researched and touching account of the horrors of the Great War described through the lives of a handful of people (both french peasants and trapped british soldiers) and will capture the reader from page 1.

Whilst the facts behind the story can only be sketchy the author has painstaking researched his brief and fleshed out this little known cameo into a genuinely interesting and emotionally involving story. Little is actually known about many of the main protagonists, in itself a sobering reminder of just what destruction occurred between 1914 and 1918 and Mr MacIntyre deserves much credit for painting such a vivid picture with such little material.

To be critical I felt that perhaps more could have been said about the relationship between Robert Digby and Claire Dessenne but with so much doubt I guess the author deserves some credit for staying within the boundaries of what material he had and not flying off into romantic conjecture. Written as a novel or portrayed in film this could be quite some story however so it's maybe a shame that this wasn't considered when writing.

Can I also recommend that anyone with the means and time to visit the graves of the 4 soldiers do what I did some years ago and make the effort. An already goose bump enducing story is made even more so looking at the stones at the back of a small churchyard in rural france. The carnage of World War I is sometimes hard to take in when such huge casualty numbers and enormous graveyards are considered.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting story of occupied France during WW1 28 Jan 2002
By A Customer
A superbly well-researched book tracing the remarkable and moving story of a group of British soldiers caught in occupied France in the First World War.
This is a story of love, bravery, betrayal and tragedy elegantly told by a seasoned Times journalist. Of course, the tale itself is compelling, but the real value of this extraordinary book is the detailed picture it provides of how war changes people, destroys entire cultures, depriving communities of their past, their present and their futures.
A Foreign Field's focus on one village, one community gives the reader an opporunity to chart the wider human destructiveness of war.
MacIntyre's brings all the characters to life and tells the story with the skill of an accomplished novelist.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is a truly accomplished book. Taking real-life events that took place during the confusion at the beginning of the first world war in 1914, the author tells the true story of a group of allied soldiers caught behind German lines when the allies retreated.
Centred around the town of Villeret in Picardy, characters (exceptionally well-researched) are brought to life as villains or heros. Sympathetically and at times humerously written, it portrays the confusion of war, and the fact that it will often bring out both the best and the worst in people.
This book will particularly appeal to those with an amateur interest in the history of the First World War, due to the painstaking research that went into the book. eg Reading about the last (brave and desparate) cavalry charge of any major war, with the proud French cavalry, charging German machine gun lines was heart-rending and evocative. It also is a great chance to understand and share in the hopes and fears of young British soldiers lost in a foreign field.
Fact mixed with fiction: a great mix when written so well.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Both books were excellent
Published 2 months ago by John Richard Truelove
5.0 out of 5 stars A Foreign Field
This paper back book was very a very good read and my partner who reads many books enjoyed it so much
Published 4 months ago by Mrs. M. L. Dorsett
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping after a slow start
Unlike in some ways any other books by Ben McIntyre. The story starts a little slowly, but then gathers pace, and in the end I couldn't put it down. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mrs B
5.0 out of 5 stars Robert Digby tribute
I have always been intrigued by unusual stories and events from ww1 and ww2, ever since as a small boy, listening to my grandfather and uncles accounts of their own wartime... Read more
Published 6 months ago by nonebutthebrave
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story, well told!
This is a brill book, exceptionally well written. It took me to that little village in France so much that I now want to go and visit and see the place for myself. Loved it.
Published 15 months ago by Al Sutherland
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read
A fantastic tale of British soldiers who loose their platoon and hide in a village one finds love with a French girl.
Eventualy they are betrayed and shot as spys. Read more
Published 16 months ago by peter wood
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Macintyre cracker
This is a wonderful book which tells untold stories of the French trapped around the front line in the 1st world war. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Mr. Timothy Pottle
4.0 out of 5 stars A darn good read
Ben Mcintyre obviously does a lot of research before writing his books, consequently, each and every one of them are a brilliant read.
Published 22 months ago by Mancunian
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Candidate for Film?
Cannot add too much to the other reviews. Well written,gripping,with an element of mystery and a love story pivotal to the 'plot'. What is more absolutely true. Read more
Published on 14 Oct 2012 by Berry
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange Conclusions.
I very much enjoyed A Forgien Field. I was recomended the book by an assistant at my local library having recently confided in her that my family history research had led me to... Read more
Published on 11 Oct 2012 by SKSWBA
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