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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read, 9 Jan 2014
By 
Peter Hart (East Finchley) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Harry's War (Hardcover)
Harry's War: The Great War Diary of Harry Drinkwater
Ebury Press, hardback, £20.00, 395pp., ills, index.
ISBN: 9-780-091-957-21-6

This book is a real pleasure to read. It has been skilfully edited by Jon Cooksey - with the wholehearted support of David Griffiths, the current owner of the diary - with just the right amount of additional background text. Too often one finds editors seeming to want to crowbar in the whole history of the war. Refreshingly, Cooksey evades such an elephant trap by restraining himself to the bare minimum of commentary, allowing Harry Drinkwater to tell his own story. I particularly like that the editor has looked up and confirmed the fate of the men we encounter in turning the pages.

The diary entries are a veritable torrent of fascinating information. I have conducted many oral history interviews for the Imperial War Museum and this diary shares the immediacy of those oral accounts, bringing to life the very zeitgeist of the experience for millions of men in the trenches: the awful smells and dreadful sights; being lathered in sweat from the back-breaking working parties, or drenched by the pouring rain; men up to their knees in mud, blood and water. All the clichés perhaps, but given depth and meaning here by the very restraint with which Drinkwater expresses his trials and tribulations.

Life was certainly not mundane for Harry Drinkwater at the front with the 15th Royal Warwickshire Regiment - the 2nd Birmingham Pals. Rapped on the helmet by a sniper's bullet, mining and visceral crater fighting near Arras, in the thick of it and going 'over the top' on the Somme, once covered in maggots from a bloated corpse, blasted by shells here, there and everywhere, he led a charmed life. Many of his friends - his best friend amongst them - were not so lucky and he movingly recounts their awful demise. On one occasion, he reflects the sheer drama of watching a ration party struggling through with heavy dixies. Real characters shine through, like Lance Corporal Sidney Page, a mere lad who grew into his position before being killed on the Somme.

Drinkwater served in the line until January 1917, after which he underwent officer training in Ireland. He returned to serve as a second lieutenant with the 16th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, just in time for the delights of Third Ypres. Now he had a real responsibility for the lives and very survival of the men he commanded with distinction in the attacks on the German field `fortress' that had been the Polderhoek Chateau north of Gheluvelt. A brief interlude in Italy is followed by a return to the Western Front where he was finally wounded on a night raid in June 1918. One gains a sense that he was, right from the start, an excellent officer. Unlike memoirs written, or worse still, edited in the 1960s, there is no resort to purple prose and trite ex-post facto commentary. Drinkwater himself is an intelligent and likeable man, an insightful observer with whom one can really empathise.

The diary also accurately reflects that the soldiers were not always in the trenches, not always going 'over the top'. The British Army devoted an enormous amount of effort to constantly rotating the battalions around between the front, support and reserve lines and rest. The very fact that this is a daily record allows us to see the other side of the Western Front: the periods out of the line, the billets, the working parties, the recreations. Occasionally a lovely touch shines through, like the heartfelt impact of real football jerseys worn during a game while out on rest.

The illustrations, although poorly reproduced by the publisher, added a great deal to my enjoyment of the book, it was fascinating to see photos of the subject and the characters that crop up in the narrative. The photos also include pictures of the ephemera related to Drinkwater in what must be the magnificent collection of David Griffiths. I particularly liked the depiction of the German bayonet scabbard Drinkwater sent home as a souvenir after alert sentry-keeping had thwarted a German bombing raid in 1916.

All in all Harry's War reflects a strange world, but the commonality of human nature also brings it closer, sometimes almost too close in some of the rawer passages. A fantastic book and a credit to everyone involved.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful new perspective on a soldier's lot in WW1, 6 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Harry's War (Kindle Edition)
Both my Grandfathers served in the trenches, so I've always had an interest in what they must have experienced and have read countless testimonies and accounts of what a soldier's life was like. These diaries strike me as unique and bring an entirely new perspective in that they are contemporaneously written, amazingly detailed, and cover 5 years from Harry's enlistment in late 1915, his training, service in the trenches of France as a private, his promotion to officer, further service in France, a period in Italy, the raid in which he won his MC, through to the end of demobilisation. Other histories tend to focus on incidents, action, or general description, whereas Harry's War provides a comprehensive account and vividly portrays the reality of daily life. What overwhelmed me was the relentlessness of the experiences they suffered: relentless fear and risk of death or injury, relentless exhaustion, relentless mud, relentless bread bacon and jam. Many aspects of their existence never came across to me before, for example, how they would march to the front line in the evening, be ready for action all night, then march back in the morning and spend the entire day labouring in the mines as the Engineers tunnelled under the German lines, only to return to the line again that evening. The utter exhaustion is unimaginable, yet the penalty for falling asleep could be death. Harry's War is such a compelling account that one almost might doubt its authenticity, but the provenance of the diaries and verifiable historic record ensure there is no doubt that these beautifully written diaries are honest and among the most remarkable accounts of the soldier's lot ever to emerge. An absolute must read for anyone with any interest in the subject.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A View From The Trenches, 8 Nov 2013
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Harry's War (Kindle Edition)
This edited book is based on a diary written by Harry Drinkwater a private soldier in the Great War who became an officer in the British Army. As writing a diary was forbidden, Harry wrote his in secret over a period of nearly 5 years. He initially was refused becoming a soldier because he was half an inch too short. Eventually, he joined a Pals battalion, most of whom were killed. Harry was awarded the Military Cross for bravery during a trench raid. Such a diary is probably unique.

It is a moving account of an infantry man's experience on the Somme, at Arras, at Ypres, and in Italy. He was wounded twice. After the war as a Major he narrowly escaped being murdered in Egypt. He records life and death in the trenches plus vivid descriptions of the vagaries of war. It is a refreshing and candid account of the mixed fortunes that befell him.

Harry was born on 19 February 1889 in Stratford upon Avon. His Dad was a boot dealer whose shop was close to the house where Shakespeare was born. Harry was one of 5 children, two of whom died at an early age. The family were staunch Methodists.

His diary reflects life in the Royal Warwickshires telling how becoming an officer changed his world. Now he gives the orders knowing that life as a platoon officer was short on the Western Front.

His diary covers his many experiences in training, action, and as an officer cadet.
He had never intended it to be published. It is a remarkable and absorbing read.

I have only one small caveat given the existence of those who deride the war as futile. This account is one by someone who had the education to put pen to paper. Thousands were not able to do this. Also, Harry was in the infantry. Many thousands of soldiers never saw action as he did because they were engaged in vital supply, repair and maintenance work. We need also to remember that research clearly indicates that very seldom did a soldier spend more than 2 weeks at a time in a trench. Finally, numerous trench systems in different geographical/geological areas bore little resemblance to those described by Harry. In brief, this moving and graphic account should not be used to support those who sign up to the 'donkey'argument or
view the war as a 'fight about nothing'.
Highly recommended.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and unique, 1 Nov 2013
This review is from: Harry's War (Hardcover)
An extraordinary book. Once you start reading, it is truly hard to put down - it must surely be the best diary ever to come out of WW1. Clearly, intelligently and movingly written on little pocketbooks while Drinkwater was actually in the trenches. Half is written as a private soldier, half as a decorated commissioned officer, which gives a fascinating and unique perspective.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing... five star and more., 30 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Harry's War (Kindle Edition)
Amazing is a word which suffers from a good deal of over-use these days but in this case it is an accurate description. To find such a detailed and personal account written by one of the millions of ordinary men, plucked from an ordinary life to play his part in such an extra-ordinary event must be truly unique. Harry pulls no punches, hides none of the nasty, cruel and extremely unpleasant aspects of the day to day life of an ordinary soldier. What you read is what he saw and experienced, uncensored by a sensitive hierarchy or press.
The Great War as it really was.
Mud over the tops of their boots, wet, miserable, frozen, hungry, deprived of sleep, even when in reserve, rats, fleas, all are here as well as the sense of being afraid but ultimately accepting that many who took over the front line would have "gone west" by the end of their days of endless waiting, watching and guarding. Often Harry's mental attitude comes through in his writing. Always asking why, never really finding an answer but all the same, doing a patriotic duty at any cost. This comes glaring off these pages.
It is a long book, it might appear repetitive in places, but that is by no means a criticism. It was a very long War and the part played by Harry and millions like him was very repetitive. Stalemate for years in trenches of mud mixed with the bodies of mates you joined up with as well as the perceived enemy.
It could be the diary of any one of millions who served but it is the diary of a survivor.
Amazing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harry's War-The Ring of Authenticity, 5 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Harry's War (Hardcover)
This really is a cracker of a publication! The author,of the diary,Harry Drinkwater,,managed to survive the Great War,maintained an illegal diary,and after the war embellished the raw written record so that it reads like a complete autobiography. It is truly outstanding,and captures life and death in the trenches,and elsewhere,and some of the many lunacies that went hand in hand with that conflict,far more realistically than any similar "diary"of the period that I've ever read.
One of the things that fascinated me as I turned the pages,was the way his personality,and attitude changed slightly,as he moved from being a volunteer Private in an Infantry regiment in 1915,to an officer holding the Kings Commission,in 1917.This by no means implies a criticism of Harry,he was ever loyal to the Cause and his various Commanding Officers,deeply committed to his men,and was obviously an highly intelligent young man who,in spite of,or perhaps because of,the situation he found himself in, ,came to realize his true potential.He was also a very courageous,and lucky soldier,because he should have died many times,yet he lived to serve and see the Victory! Very Highly Recommended! No student of the Great War should be without it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be essential reading in schools, 29 July 2014
By 
J. Cooper "Jacky" (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Harry's War (Kindle Edition)
Harry’s War, by Harry Drinkwater and edited by Jon Cooksey
This book describes World War 1 as experienced by Harry Drinkwater through his personal diaries. For that reason alone, it is a remarkable account of life in and around the trenches. Harry joined the Birmingham Pals at his second attempt at the outbreak of war in August 1914, having been turned down the first time on account of being a little too short. His diary initially describes the training of the volunteers in England before embarking for the Western Front in 1915.
The diaries are reproduced as recorded, and document some of the monotony and misery of the life of the soldiers as well as the occasional bliss when they got a warm dry day that enabled them to spend part of the day scraping off the mud with which they and their clothes were caked. There are occasional comments interspersed throughout the text which compliment some of Harry’s original words – sometimes added in later years when he had come to realise the background or significance to situations that had not been apparent at the time, and others added by David Griffiths who expands on Harry’s words to detail the fate of people who are mentioned to have died.
All in all I found this a good mix of valuable personal memoir and general introduction to how an individual might have experienced the four years of conflict that we are so fortunate not to have had to endure. Harry, like so many others, must have been an incredible man and these diaries are another reminder that we really must not forget the sacrifices so many of them made for our freedom and safety.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent read, 21 Feb 2014
By 
Donald Cook - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harry's War (Kindle Edition)
This diary tells it the way it really was , these men must have had hearts like lions to suffer the dreadful conditions they were living in let alone the fighting , Harry certainly had a charmed life in that he was only wounded once , and even then he carried on fighting and was decorated for it . The book does not mention that after the war he stayed single , I had to look this up on the net to find out. The book decribes the front line fighting, shelling ,snipers , and it is unbderstandable how men came home shellshocked with constant bombardments. also the contrast in other fronts like in italy where it was described as a good war. I thoroughly enjoyed this book
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most humbling book I've ever read., 1 April 2014
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This review is from: Harry's War (Hardcover)
We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those who, like Harry, went through the unutterable horror of of the first World War.

My own grandfather was shot through the lung--the bullet grazing his heart--on the first day of the Battle of Arras and lay in the mud (it was snowing heavily) for more than 24 hours before the stretcher-bearers could retrieve him. He was barely alive, and suffered an agonising journey back to Blighty, his war over. He could never bear to tell of his awful experiences and, thanks to Harry Drinkwater's superbly written and meticulously kept diaries, I now understand why.

Read it and feel grateful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant read, 6 April 2014
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I do not normally read books. But I am extremely interested in anything to do with World War I so thought I would purchase it. It is a must for anyone who wants to learn about the living conditions and what the brave men had to put up with. The descriptions and accounts made you feel like you were there. Great read.
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Harry's War
Harry's War by Harry Drinkwater (Hardcover - 31 Oct 2013)
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