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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on 17 April 2013
War Memorial is an absorbing insight into the lives of not only the individuals concerned but their families, their communities and the impact of war in the round.

Taking as it does a memorial like any other, the author crafts a powerful narrative that goes far beyond that which one would normally assume the subject matter would cover. He provides insight into the period which encompasses wide social issues as well as that of the lives of those recorded and straddles the various significant conflicts from WW1 to Iraq.

This is not a book which simply states the bare facts, but rather, delves behind the circumstances of their deaths to find the characters themselves. It is a refined and respectful recognition that illustrates that across many communities, such memorials represent a tangible link with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice through their service.
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on 27 December 2012
Bought this for my 80 year old uncle, who seemed to find it fascinating. He is interested in history but not especially military tactics. I chose this book for the moving human element to each personal story.
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on 2 May 2015
The enduring power of the First World War over the nation's imagination has only been reinforced by the centenary celebrations. For example, the Woodland Trust, of which I am a trustee, is planting four woods, one each in the 4 nations of the UK. And the power of that far off war to grip our imagination is even stronger for those of us like me who can remember talking to men and women who lived through the War. I can certainly well remember my grandfather, Private Joseph William Marshall, who died in 1969 and who had fought at Ypres with the London Rifle Brigade. Ypres, together with the Somme, is one of those places that particularly encapsulates the terrible experience of the Western Front. Ypres (Wipers to the Tommy) was a key salient which was never captured by the Germans but was reduced to utter ruin by German shelling. Today, the whole area around Ypres is full of cemeteries, vast row on rows of tombstones, often marked "To a Soldier of the Great War, Known only to God." In the centre of Ypres is the vast Cloth Hall - the largest non religious building in Europe in 1914 - which was destroyed but has been rebuilt and is today a moving museum "In Flanders Field". When you enter you are given an identity of a British, french, Belgian or German soldier or a Belgian civilian and when you come out you are told what happened to "you". usually the answer is sadly predictable.

The author of "War Memorial", Clive Aslet move us from the killing trenches of Ypres to one of the most beautiful and remote parts of England - Lydford in Devon. Those of you who like me love Devon and perhaps consider it the greatest of all English counties will know that this is today a beauty spot, with a famous gorge, Lydford Gorge on the edge of Dartmoor. The book tells the story of each of the names on the war memorial - 13 from WWI, 8 from WW2, 1 from the Falklands War and one from Iraq. Thanks to careful research Aslet traces the story of each of these 22 men and one woman. The book is realistic. Lydford in 1914 was no pastoral idyll as it appears today but a place where life was short and most people were dirt poor. Most boys left school at 14 (if not earlier) and followed their fathers as labourers, thatchers, stonemasons and so on. Some never made it to 14 "Thomas Bickle deceased' is the laconic entry in the school register when one of the boys fell into the River Lydd.

Village life as now revolved heavily around sport and the pub. The most talented cricketer and footballer was Archie Huggins. He opened the bowling and was a swashbuckling batsman. He also played - what success! - for the local Big team Tavistock. At the outbreak of war (the announcement in the local paper was certainly not on the front page but sandwiched inside between advertisements for coats and leggings) it was assumed that the interruption to the 1914 football season would be short. It was suspended until Christmas or the end of war - assumption being whichever came sooner. Archie died of dysentery at Gallipoli, one of the great military disasters of British history and a botched campaign which would, it seemed after the war, permanently blight the career of its architect, one Winston S. Churchill. Its easy to forget, Aslet reminds us, how many people died of disease rather than killed by the enemy. in the American Civil War the ratio of the former to the latter was 24: 1 and even though this had reduced greatly by 1914 its still tragic to read of so many brave young men whose lives could be easily saved today.

The men and boys of Lydford were not perhaps as fixed to the land as we might imagine - some of the names on the memorial are people who left - two labourers Mancel Clark and Sam Voysey had left Lydford for Canada before the war. Both enlisted in the Canadian army, and both died fighting in it at the Somme. Others moved into the village or in one case, Charlie Berry, met a local girl and married her. Charlie was a regular soldier - one of the so called "Old Contemptibles" who faced the might of the German army with the tiny BEF in 1914. Their name, which they wore with pride, reflected the label which Kaiser Wilhelm had given to them - " a contemptible little army". Charlie miraculously survived the retreat in 1914 and was in the middle of some of the fiercest fighting around Ypres in 1915 at Chateau de Gheluvelt. He embarked on other campaigns, was wounded, convalesced and met and married Polly from Lydford, before before his luck ran out near Thiepval on the Somme in 1916. His path crossed with two of the most important people of the C20th before he died. For good, the writer JRR Tolkien who was serving very near him on the Somme. If you understand this you can get a profound insight into Tolkien's wonderful book "The Lord of the Rings'. Read of the "Dead Marshes" for example and think of places like Ypres. For the water table is high in the Flemish lowlands and as a result many men drowned in a sea of mud - especially that around one village whose name still resonates - Passchendaele. Tolkien supposedly modelled Sam Gamgee on his "batman" ie his soldier servant cum valet. And then for evil. For facing Charlie Berry at Chateau de Gheluvelt was a young runner in the Bavarian infantry. He somehow managed to survive time after time when his fellow soldiers were killed - being a runner, taking messages, was the most dangerous job. His comrades called him "Lucky Linzer" after his home town. He is better known to history as Adolf Hitler.

Time doesn't permit to summarise any of the other stories but the sheer ordinariness and courage of ordinary men (and one woman) to as they saw it "do their duty' is moving. After the war, people realised that this was a war like no other. In fact, with tragic over optimism, they named it "The War to end all wars'. All over Britain they built war memorials, memorials above all to the ordinary, unheralded "Tommy". So named because as Kipling said "O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' " Tommy, go away " /But it's " Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play". previously the upper classes, the General and Officers got the statues but not this time. This was the first total war in which not just professional soldiers but everyone served, including the ordinary labourers and thatchers and stonemasons of Lydford. So, in 1921 (after a protracted dispute about what exactly they wanted) they they built the war memorial pictured above. so next time you drive or walk past one of the more than 30,000 war memorials in the UK, remember them. this moving book will conjure up in your mind the identity of these men who thanks to Clive Aslet, step off the war memorial and into our minds.
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on 8 May 2013
A very interesting book in every respect, depicting the life of a village in the conflicts of the 20th century
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This is a well-written, well researched book which is very moving to read. The lifes - and deaths - of the men from the village are both poignant and interesting - well worth a read.
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on 3 April 2015
I did not find this book an easy read. Despite the amount of effort put in it just did not have that vibrancy that makes a good read. I suppose this was inevitable as all the tales had a sad ending.
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on 21 December 2012
My husband lived in Lydford in the nineteen fifties and sixties and knew some of the families mentioned. He found the book very interesting and also learnt several interesting facts about the village and its residents. He used to wait for the school bus every morning at the War Memorial and the book bought the names on the memorial to life.
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on 25 May 2013
There is so much sadness between the covers, but it is a must read for those who wish to understand the impact of war on we, the ordinary people.
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on 7 February 2013
A well documented record of the lives, in peace and war, of the names on the war memorial in one village.
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