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The Reluctant Tommy - Review,
This review is from: The Reluctant Tommy: An Extraordinary Memoir of the First World War (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. What is also very distasteful to me as an ex soldier, is the author's claim that he was to be decorated for gallantry but refused to accept the award (a convenient explanation for why said award was never gazetted). A claim of this nature, if it is indeed untrue, is considered by servicemen to be one of the lowest and most detestable acts there is; to falsely claim credit or eligibility for or to a decoration for which one is not in fact entitled.
My own misgivings notwithstanding and as strange as it may sound given the tone of my invective, as the author himself is also no longer with us to defend his account, it should be left to the individual, only after having read the book, to make his or her own mind up as to the veracity of the account. I firmly believe however, that anyone who has read a significant number of first had accounts of the Great War will quite easily be able to identify far too many flaws to believe that this is an accurate account.
I have seen it written that this book should be removed from the shelves; I do not necessarily agree with this, but I do believe that it should be pointed out in greater detail that much of the material is, for a variety of reasons, of a dubious nature and that this account should be treated as semi-fictional at best.
To those who are determined, for whatever reason, to believe the author's account verbatim; perhaps they can't bear the thought of an 'honourable pacifist' writing an untrue or inaccurate account, I would simply point to the many inconsistencies with the official accounts of the actions and casualties described in the book (e.g. recording the date of the death in action of his 'best mate', not by days or weeks, but by over 4 months. If you remain unconvinced then perhaps you should consider the fact that the Imperial War Museum has chosen to remove the author's papers from its catalogue on the basis of their unreliability as an account of an individual's experience of the First World War.