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The Reluctant Tommy: An Extraordinary Memoir of the First World War [Abridged, Audiobook, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Ronald Skirth , Duncan Barrett , Daniel Weyman
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 May 2011

'Ella darling, There are things I have concealed from you up till now that I think you ought to know; things that have turned me from a different person from the Ronald you know.'

So, in April 1918, Ronald Skirth, a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Artillery, wrote to his sweetheart, back in England. A year before, Skirth, then just nineteen years old, had been sent to fight on the Western Front. This is his story, the story of a young man who went to war a devoted servant of King and country and returned utterly convinced that war, all war, was wrong and who acted upon his convictions, making a pact with God that he would not kill. This riveting memoir was written fifty years after the end of the war, drawing on his own contemporary diary entries and letters home. Never published before, it affords a vivid, moving and surprising insight into that most dreadful of conflicts.


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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Macmillan Digital Audio; Abridged edition edition (6 May 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0230754287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230754287
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 14.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,088,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`Different from the hundreds of other memoirs about the Great War ...What he has to say was hard come by and should be heard' --Daily Mail

`Superb' --Daily Telegraph

`An important contribution to the literature of the war ... whenever I get too misty-eyed about officer-man relationships I shall reread it to remind me of how badly things could go wrong.'

`An important contribution to the literature of the war ... whenever I get too misty-eyed about officer-man relationships I shall reread it to remind me of how badly things could go wrong.' Richard Holmes, Evening Standard --Richard Holmes, Evening Standard

'In the middle of No Man's Land, in the aftermath of the battle of Passchendaele young Tommy Ronald Skirth saw the body of a dead German and resolved never to help take a human life...In his retirement he finally, and controversially, unburdened memories held secret for some 50 years and these have just been published in paperback...' --Choice Magazine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

Contrary to some comments made in reviews of this book, the Imperial War Museum have NOT withdrawn Ronald Skirth's memoirs from public access. The papers can still be found in the Museum's documents collection - a rich resource of diaries, letters and memoirs, reflecting the many and varied personal thoughts, opinions, beliefs and wartime experiences of thousands of people who have been involved in conflict.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An unreliable memoir 19 Dec 2010
Format:Hardcover
At what point does a memoir stray so far from fact that it can be described more accurately as a work of fiction?

Even editor Duncan Barrett questions the truthfulness of Skirth's story in his introduction. He acknowledges inconsistencies and at one point suggests that `the memoir seems less an autobiography than a novel'. Given that he had such misgivings, it's surprising that Barrett and publisher Pan Macmillan have chosen to market this book as an 'extraordinary memoir'. What is particularly shameful is that Skirth makes serious allegations about the conduct of fellow soldiers, damning their characters without any regard for their reputations or the feelings of their descendants, and without offering any corroborative evidence.

Duncan Barrett should have taken more time to check the credibility of the memoir, or perhaps more notice of the `facts' he did check and found to be wrong. I bought this book as fact not fiction but it is an unreliable memoir and I feel cheated of the purchase price and the time taken to read it, though I haven't bothered reading it to the end.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A work of fiction 4 Feb 2011
By Chris Baker VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
I have spent a considerable time checking the statements made in this book, comparing them with battery and brigade war diaries and soldier's records. Barely a line stacks up. I am afraid that "The reluctant Tommy" can only be considered at best a well-meant work of fiction or at worst some kind of personal attempt to embarrass individuals with which the author served. It's an interesting and even absorbing read, but a fairy tale.

UPDATE: on the basis of this and other research, the Imperial War Museum has now removed Skirth's papers from its catalogue on the basis of their unreliability as a record of the Great War. These papers were used as the basis for this book.
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A shameful fantasy 5 Jun 2010
Format:Hardcover
This book should never have been allowed to see the light of day. With even the most basic checking it should have been obvious that the story is an elaborate fantasy. Skirth certainly existed - his Medal Card proves it - but basic checking of some of the alleged facts prove that the author was, at the most charitable interpretation, suffering from an appalling memory.

Skirth repeatedly claims to have served in 239 Battery RGA though it's clear he was actually in 293. He movingly describes two friends and an officer being killed on Messines Ridge on 8th June 1917 - though the unit war diary notes no casualties and the named officer isn't on the Commonwealth War Graves Register. In November 1917 he says his battery was so far forward they were ordered to withdraw and his insane CO refused to leave - Skirth claims to have disobeyed his direct order and fled with his pal Jock Shiels - yet according to the CWG Register John Shiels of 293 Battery RGA was killed on 18th July 1917. When the battery is later sent to Italy Skirth is quite clear that it was without guns as late as April 1918 yet the war diary records them firing numerous bombardments weeks before.

By the period he was writing about in Italy British artillery had reached heights of professionalism that it was not to scale again until El Alamein. It is inconceivable that a gun could have been so positioned as to be impossible to fire without killing the crew - they'd have known it just as much as Skirth and would have refused any order and would have had it moved. The senior officer he repeatedly slates as totally mad had a very respectable career and retired a full Colonel - lunatics do not do this - not even in the British Army.

Too many people have fallen for the "Lions led by Donkeys" line (itself a false quote invented by Alan Clarke) and happily gone along with this monstrous farago.

Read it as fiction - but don't accept any of it as fact.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great 8 Aug 2013
By megan
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting book, I like reading the true stories from the front, anybody interested in World War One I would say ----read it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Reluctant Tommy - Review 23 July 2012
By SLK
Format:Paperback
Unfortunately I have to agree with the negative reviews I have read on this account (I confess to not having read all of them). I am not an historian but I am very well read on the subject of the First World War; my family history instilled in me from a very early age, a deep fascination with the war that has endured to this day.

Even an amateur historian such as me can find too many elements of the story that quite simply 'don't add up'. I had come across this book by chance without having heard of it previously and my suspicions as to its accuracy had been aroused fairly early in the reading of it and long before I had read the opinions of any of my fellow military history buffs. To be fair, it is stated early on that names of individuals and units have been changed (although the change of the name of a unit or specifically a battery in this instance is somewhat redundant since it is a very straightforward exercise to identify the correct unit based on official war diaries). The author can also be forgiven for memory failures following the lapse of such a long period of time between the events described and the writing of the memoirs. What I do find particularly unpalatable about this account is the distinct possibility that individuals referred to by pseudonyms (but persons who can be quite easily identified by living relatives, again based on other historical sources) have been posthumously defamed, including in respect of gallantry awards. It appears this may have been done purely as a means of settling old scores with men he personally disliked. In my opinion, such claims, particularly if they are to be made in print should only be done so when the accused are still alive to defend them and it is deeply dishonourable to do otherwise.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars VIEWS OF A FORMER GUNNER
I have read Ronald Skirth's 'memoir' with more than a cursory eye. I bought this book having served my National Service with the Royal Artillery also the Honourable Artillery... Read more
Published 2 months ago by ROBERT .
5.0 out of 5 stars First World War true stories
Bought this for my partner who says its the best book he's read and thoroughly enjoyed it! Made him want to laugh and cry.
Published 8 months ago by Mrs. Maureen Steel
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing
Gave up after the first 100 pages. There are too many inconsistencies to make it anything other fiction. Read more
Published 10 months ago by John
2.0 out of 5 stars ok, but.....
This is interesting in parts, but with rather too much mundane daily trivia to hold my attention. Very much someones personal life history than a war history.
Published 12 months ago by Mr L M BASSETT
5.0 out of 5 stars The Reluctant Tommy
I enjoyed the book very much - it makes one realise the terrible situation that these mostly young boy soldiers had to endure. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Audrey
5.0 out of 5 stars book
This book is another account of war time activities and was found to be very interesting, as they always are.
Published 14 months ago by Mrs. J. O'brien
1.0 out of 5 stars How living with "bitterness" for 50 odd years can change fact to...
I should have realised that a book relating to events 50 yrs earlier, would be hard to take seriously, as it turned out I was right. Read more
Published on 3 Jan 2012 by Roberto
4.0 out of 5 stars A controversial memoir of the Great War.
This must surely rank as one of the most controversial books ever
written by a soldier of the Great War to the extent that there
have even been calls that the publishers... Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2011 by G. H. Michael
2.0 out of 5 stars The Reluctant tommy
A book that I was looking forward to reading but when I did it was tinged with a feeling of surprise at the author's continuous theme of self satisfaction and selfishness. Read more
Published on 12 Jun 2011 by Capt C
1.0 out of 5 stars A self-serving fiction
Military records, including his own, give the lie to much of the critical detail in Skirth's concoction. Read more
Published on 14 Mar 2011 by Antony Kozlowski
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