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Sapper Martin: The Secret Great War Diary of Jack Martin [Hardcover]

Richard Van Emden
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Nov 2009
Albert John ('Jack') Martin was a thirty-two-year-old clerk at the Admiralty when he was called up to serve in the army in September 1916. These diaries, written in secret, hidden from his colleagues and only discovered by his family after his return home, present the Great War with heartbreaking clarity, written in a voice as compelling and distinctive as Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon and all the more extraordinary given that it is not an officer's but that of a private. From his arrival in France and his participation in the Somme, through offensives at Ypres and eventual demobilisation after the Armistice, we see wartime life as it really was for the ordinary Tommy. In these journals, introduced and edited by bestselling First World War historian Richard van Emden, we witness the cheerful Albert Martin getting to grips with life in the trenches and, together with his comrades in the Royal Engineers, confronting the ever-present threat of injury and death. We also see the mundane reality of life at the front line - the arguments with superiors, the joy brought by the arrival of packages from loved ones at home and the appalling conditions in which that attritional war was fought.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1st edition (2 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408802678
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408802670
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 417,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Praise for The Soldier's War 'Thousands of books have been written about the Great War, but perhaps none so vividly evocative as Richard van Emden's The Soldier's War an extraordinary homage to a lost generation' Daily Mail 'A remarkably distressing yet uplifting book these descriptions from a Tommy's eye-view have a gut-wrenching immediacy' Daily Mail 'In The Soldier's War, Richard van Emden has toiled in archives and hunted down caches of letters to tell the story of the war chronologically through the eyes of the Tommies who fought it, recording their days of tedium and moments of terror' The Times --Daly Mail

About the Author

Richard van Emden has interviewed over 270 veterans of the Great War and has written ten books on the Great War including The Trench, and The Last Fighting Tommy (both top ten bestsellers), The Soldier's War, Boy Soldiers of the Great War and Prisoners of the Kaiser. He has also worked on more than a dozen television programmes on the Great War, including Prisoners of the Kaiser, Veterans, Britain's Last Tommies, and the award winning Roses of No Man's Land and Britain's Boy Soldiers.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The true reality of war. 28 Nov 2009
During the Great War the work of the Royal Engineers really came to show us what this completely unappreciated arm were capable of, no army can ever be sustained in the field without their help, but it is rare for us to get a glimpse of the work of the ordinary Sapper in any war litrature.
Sapper Albert Martin took a considerable risk keeping his diaries, it was strictly against regulations and he probably would have been severely punished had the diaries been discovered.
Sapper Martins diaries were written in an easy reading style yet they hold the readers attention at every turn of the page, I found this book very difficult to put down. It is a fascinating tale of an ordianary soldier doing his duty that shows us the true reality of life at the front, from the mundane existance and boredom to the extreme horror and fear experienced by these men, this book really is a superb read and Mr Van Emden has done an excellent job editing the diaries.
I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone and I fail to see how this book would not be enjoyed by everyone who reads it, it is a book that should be read by those with a either strong or passing interest in the subject.
Thank you to Albert Martin for keeping his diaries, and thank you to Mr Van Emden for making them available to the public.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Honour, courage and the common man. 2 Nov 2009
By Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
During the first world war the sapper came into their own in this often missed and short life expectancy job on the front line. Here we get the view of the common man, who tells the tale of life in the trenches, the monotony, the repetition and existence in some of the worst trenches that the troops had to face. From the Somme to Ypres this vivid account is the type of history that I want to read. I don't like the generalisation of the war from the Generals or a Historians, I want it from the front line, from those who viewed the full horror and lived to tell the cost of not only friends and family but also of the moral boosts from home with their simple gifts alongside their letters. A true tale of courage, honour and above all bravery of the common man in the adversity of warfare. Van Emden has done a stirling job of condensing the war diaries of Albert and yet retained the voice of the common man.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 122nd Brigade, 41st Division - Required Reading 13 Dec 2009
By Withnail67 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
As the Great War marches out of living memory, it's almost a cliché to say that there has been a steady increase in interest in the experience of the passing generation, and a steady barrage of newly transcribed diaries, memoirs, and collections of letters.

The interest of these books often rests on the nature of the author's service, the theatre of war they served in, their rank and the nature of their service, not to mention their skill as a writer.

Sapper Jack Martin's Diary, ably edited by Richard van Emden, was presumably written in secret (diary keeping was banned at the front) or with the tacit approval of Martin's superiors. It is an outstanding example of an enlisted man's war: Martin's skill as a writer makes this an invaluable addition to the genre.

Martin served in the Royal Engineers, a volunteer from a stern no-conformist background. He served in the Brigade signals of the 122nd Infantry brigade, part of the 41st Division. (His brigade included the 12th East Surreys, 15th Hampshire's, 11th Royal West Kents, and the 18th Kings Royal Rifle Corps - research into these battalions will find this book of particular interest). The Division was deployed in France in May 1916, served o the Somme (where Martin's diary begins in September 1916); in the battle of Messines in summer 1917 and on the Flanders coast. In November 1918 they were sent to Italy to stem the Austro-Hungarian advance and Martin's description of Italy is especially striking. They returned to the Western front in February 1918, enduring the hammer blows of the German Spring Offensive, and after the Hundred Day's advance, finishing the war in occupation duties in Cologne.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Enjoyable. 6 Jan 2010
This diary, whilst being necessarily (and who can tell how well) edited is a wonderfully preserved and presented slice of Great War life from someone who served in Flanders and France from the latter part of the battle of the Somme through Pashendale, on to Italy then back to the Western Front just in time for Germany's 1918 offensive and the subsequent "100 days" leading to the eventual allied victory. "Sapper" Jack Martin narrates the daily events of his service with a great degree of humility and yet lacks the often perceived, fore-lock-tugging deference that many of the Georgian working and middle classes (at least on the surface) appeared to affect; this makes for a refreshing and humorously wry read.
I found this book to be highly compelling and I would strongly recommend it to any student of not only the Great War but also of early 20th Century.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hidden masterpiece 9 Nov 2011
Why Sapper Martin did not have this diary edited and published during his lifetime is beyond me. It has all the marks of a classic. It is an eloquent, moving and honest window into the world of one of our long-forgotten heroes.

Had this been published just after the First World War, I am certain that it would now be up there alongside Sassoon and Graves.

Following Sapper Martin from his arrival in France in 1916, through the Somme and Ypres battles, on to the Italian front, then back to the Western Front for the end-game, the diary records everything from the mundane to the tragic, using often-beautiful language but with an all-pervading and disarming modesty. As far as it is possible to be, you are there with him; you know him and you like him.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars but another good read
Bought as a present, but another good read
Published 5 days ago by k lawrence
5.0 out of 5 stars A harrowing but most informative Diary
My Father served in the Royal Engineeers in WW1 but sadly died when I was only 5 years of age.This diary certainly gives an insight into the horrors that he must have endured. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. R. B. Allen
4.0 out of 5 stars Sapper Martin
This guy had a very charmed life, not however the condition or attitudes he had to work in or with
Published 2 months ago by Jeff Brookes
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read
Truly fantastic ! It is raw truth, the diaries tell it how it was not how a writer thinks it may have been, the phrase ' must read' is too often used to hype up the sales of books... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Paul Trish
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely story
Purchased this for my stepfather who loves accounts of the war. He's very happy with it and I'd recommend to anyone with similiar interests.
Published 3 months ago by H. Joberns
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb. Again!
I'm turning into something of a Richard van Emden fan though, in truth, I've read very little of his writing. Why? Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mr M.R.Watkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good
This book is well put together. I was a Sapper but in a different age, and I was fascinated by this account of an ordinary bloke who obviously had some amazing resilience. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Christopher J. Hart
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
A great insight not only in to world war 1 but also a great man's life. The heroes back then dealt with some horrendous conditions.
Published 10 months ago by Jon C
5.0 out of 5 stars fabulous Book
Very detailed and difficult to put down, very well written.
Would readily recommend to anyone interested in World War One.
Published 12 months ago by Neil Greenwood
5.0 out of 5 stars wounderful book
This book was a really good read. Really enjoyed finding out what the sappers got up to in the wars.
Published 14 months ago by leigh ottaway
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