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Good example of memorial study
on 22 October 2012
The ready availability of military records of the era of the Great War has in recent years encouraged the development of a whole genre of work: the exploration of the men, life and experience of a place in Britain through the study of those named on its war memorial. In most cases these are the work of an individual who has carried out deep research, sometimes over many years. Most such works are privately or locally produced, essentially as the larger publishers have only seen a limited market for such work. Clive Aslet's "War memorial" is different, being produced by one of the big names of publishing and no doubt because of the name and reputation of its author. Aslet is well known for his work with Country Life, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail. It should encourage to those many people who are out there beavering away at similar projects that in the build-up to the centenary of the Great War, publishers may soon be more eager to produce such works than has hitherto been the case.
"War memorial" is a study of the men of Lydford, a small rural community on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. The village cross names thirteen men who died in WW1, to which was added eight more in WW2, one who fell in the Falkands conflict and one just nine years ago relating to the Iraq War. It is typical of its type and is no larger or smaller in numbers of names than we expect; but at the same time all memorials and the men listed are unqiue and have their own tales to tell. Clive Aslet has, judging by the notes, trawled official records, local material and (hurrah) internet sources to produce an engaging, absorbing work.
A partcularly interesting feature of the Lydford story is the variety of experience of the men who are listed: certainly there are names from the local Devonshire Regiment, North Devon Hussars and the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry; but men also served with the Royal Navy and other county line regiments. Two died whilst serving with the Canadian infantry. They are a mixture of officers and other ranks, regulars, territorials and conscripts - in other words, just about as broad a spread as is possible with just thirteen names. in WW2 is added the Parachute Regiment, Merchant Navy, Royal Air Force and a female Private of the ATS. Their military stories are told, of course, but woven with tales of their family and the life of the village. As we would expect of a professional writer, the story is well structured and eminently readable.
The book benefits from a number of clear campaign maps and forty black and white photographs, including portraits of individuals, contemporary family and village scenes and some from military archives.
Certainly a good buy for anyone interested in Devon, "War memorial" will be of much wider appeal and, given the timing of its launch, will be a welcome Christmas stocking filler for many.