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The Englishman's Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I Paperback – 1 Feb 2003

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; Reprint edition (Feb. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385336799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385336796
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 221,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


--"The New York Times Book Review

""This poignant reconstruction...has all the tensions of a contemporary mystery."
--"The Philadelphia Inquirer

""Wrenching...thoroughly captivating...reminds one of the novels of Michael Ondaatje."
--"The Washington Times

--"The New York Times Book Review
" This poignant reconstruction...has all the tensions of a contemporary mystery.
--"The Philadelphia Inquirer
" Wrenching...thoroughly captivating...reminds one of the novels of Michael Ondaatje.
--"The Washington Times

From the Inside Flap

In the first terrifying days of World War I, four British soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines on the western front. They were forced to hide in the tiny French village of Villeret, whose inhabitants made the courageous decision to shelter the fugitives until they could pass as Picard peasants.
The Englishman's Daughter is the never-before-told story of these extraordinary men, their protectors, and of the haunting love affair between Private Robert Digby and Claire Dessenne, the most beautiful woman in Villeret. Their passion would result in the birth of a child known as "The Englishman's Daughter," and in an act of unspeakable betrayal, a tragic legacy that would haunt the village for generations to come.
Through the testimonies of the villagers and the last letters of the soldiers, acclaimed journalist Ben Macintyre has pieced together a harrowing account of how life was lived behind enemy lines during the Great War, and offers a compelling solution to a gripping mystery that reverberates to this day.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
interesting true story of English soldiers hiding in a wee French village during the chaos known as World War I. not as exciting as Macintyre's WWII cliff-hangers (like Agent ZigZag) and without the depth & detail in the characters, about whom too little is known at this remove in time. a very nice read if a bit frustrating. and sad, of course. nobody won.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was recommended to me and I found it a moving and enjoyable read. Would recommend it .
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Beautifully written book about true love in WW1. Made me laugh and cry.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars 30 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true story of courage, love and betrayal in World War On 22 Dec. 2004
By Ironmike - Published on
Format: Paperback
This little gem is well researched and well written by an author who tells the tale of a group of British soldiers trapped behind German lines in 1914. The people of a small village, Villeret near the Somme River harbor the men for nearly two years as the Germans press the search for them and other British stragglers. An outstanding tale of love, romance, danger, narrow escapes and brutal suppression by the Germans and it is all true. Finally, after many long months of brutal treatment by the Germans, someone in the village betrays the British. Who betrays them and why? Read the book. You will not be disapointed by this one. A film just waiting to happen.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little-viewed aspect of World War I 17 Mar. 2007
By David W. Nicholas - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book about a chapter of the First World War not often spoken of in the history books. We read a great deal in books about the Second World War how the various civilian populations, and stray lost soldiers, resisted the Nazis, but we read almost nothing with regards to World War I on the same subject. This book recounts a particular incident where 7 British soldiers found themselves caught behind German lines at the beginning of the war, during the first campaign. They hid in a village named Villeret, spending two years there, blending into the local population, making friends, and even in one case falling in love and fathering a child.

The main story of the book surrounds this love affair and the resulting child (still alive when the author wrote the book in 1999). After her birth, the child's father and his comrades were captured and four of them (including the father) were executed. This part of the book, and the subsequent reunion of the family in 1930, is told simply and rather elegantly by the author.

The interesting part of the story, to my mind, was the backdrop to the actual affair. I've always been fascinated by this sort of thing, and the author does a good job of recounting how the French civilians were treated during World War I if they were in territory occupied by the Germans. The Germans apparently looted quite thoroughly (the commander in the story issues a proclamation that eggs are for German officers exclusively!) and shot anyone who showed much defiance. There were French espionage rings operating behind German lines (one figures in the plot, murkily, in the background). There wasn't, however, the concerted effort to kill individual German soldiers and sabotage their operations that there was in the later war.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. I have MacIntyre's other books too, and I intend to read them when I get a chance.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Behavior of Civilians Under Occupation 28 Sept. 2010
By J. Crutcher - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very interesting (true) story about how the inhabitants of a small (pop. 600),out-of-the-way French village behaved when occupied by German troops during World War I. From previous wars, the Germans had a gruesome reputation and when their troops arrived the villagers looked upon them with hatred. This was amplified as the Germans compiled detailed lists of all people, crops, livestock and items down to each familys' metal pots and pans for requisition for the German war effort. The village and surrounding areas were saturated with troops billeted in villagers' homes with offficers in nearby chateaus. Also billeted in the village, unbeknownst to the Germans, were seven British soldiers, separated from their withdrawing units, who were unable to get through the German lines to rejoin them.

In normal times, the village was rife with ancient family feuds, jealousies, gossip, and crime. The arrival of the British stragglers and the German troops created a kind of unity: protecting the British fugitives was a patriotic duty, they were considered trophies of resistance. At great risk to themselves, the villagers kept the British hidden (often in the same houses billeted with Germans)and fed. As months passed, the villagers' fears began to recede; relations between fugitives, their protectors, and the German invaders began to evolve. Individually, German troops were actually often human, courteous, helpful, and some even attractive. The British, on the other hand began to be seen as seven more mouths to feed in desperately hungry conditions. They were leading a soft life while others on both sides did the fighting, and the pregnancy of a village girl by one of the British soldiers produced a subtle but unstable reaction: old jealousies and animosities re-surfaced, whispering began, and the Germans began receiving anonymous denunciations.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It takes a village to hide seven soldiers 28 Feb. 2012
By N. B. Kennedy - Published on
Format: Paperback
Ben Macintyre had the good fortune that every journalist dreams of when he takes on an unpromising assignment only to have the story of a lifetime fall into his lap.

As Paris correspondent for the London Times, Macintyre went out to report on a meager ceremony in the tiny French village of Villeret commemorating four British soldiers who were executed there by the Germans during World War I. The soldiers had been hidden by the villagers of Villeret for two years.

At the close of the ceremony, an elderly woman in a wheelchair seeks out Macintyre to tell him the story of how seven British soldiers had been protected by the village, three of whom eventually escaped, and four who were shot. "That was in 1916. I was six months old," she tells him. "Those seven British soldiers were our soldiers. One of them was my father."

From this astonishing disclosure, Macintyre weaves a satisfying tale of wartime horrors and humiliations, as the territory at the Western Front changed hands between German and Allied hands. In the confusion of battle, the seven British soldiers lost their regiments and became trapped behind enemy lines. They hid in the woods, which were impenetrable to German horses, until a villager discovered them and convinced her friends and neighbors to collude with her in first hiding them, and then remaking them into credible French peasants so they could live out in the open.

Although the title of the book makes a lot of the love story of one of the soldiers -- Robert Digby, the father of the elderly woman in the wheelchair -- and how it lead to the betrayal and execution of the soldiers, I found more value in the book as a study of war. Mr. Macintyre is skilled in placing you at the Front and immersing you in the exhaustion, terror and shock of retreating soldiers. He also brings clarity to the daily struggles of occupied villages. Homes, food, animals, livelihoods -- everything is demanded, taken, looted or destroyed. Civilians are shot for sport or for resisting. Refugees flee, with nowhere to go. One woman shoots her beloved horse rather than turn him over to the Germans.

Because I know nothing of the geography of France, and never took French as a language, people's names and place names became confusing very quickly. But the author provides a map and often reintroduces people with phrases that repeat their relationship to someone or their occupation in the village, which is helpful. Mr. Macintyre completed prodigious amounts of research, using both primary and secondary sources, and it's a pleasure to see that an event of so long ago can be recreated so completely -- even though the men's fate is so tragic and there ultimately remains the unsolved mystery of who betrayed them.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good account of life in German-occupied France 12 Mar. 2013
By Carrie - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is ostensibly the story of an English soldier who falls in love with a French villager in German-occupied France. But it's really an account of life under the draconian regulations of a paranoid and controlling German army major in northern France.

If you're looking for a detailed wartime love story, you're not really going to find it here. The author does a great job in his research but is limited by the fact that the eyewitnesses to (and subjects of) the love story have long since passed away. Since the English soldier (Robert Digby) was masquerading as a French peasant, he was in close proximity to his girlfriend (Claire Dessenne), so there wasn't a need for them to write letters to one another, and thus we don't really have too much in the way of firsthand accounts of their limited time together.

But this book is a great account of civilian life in Villeret (which was not far from the front). My knowledge of WWI was (and is) very limited, so I found the French interactions with the German occupiers to be very interesting and surprising. I was initially surprised by the lack of overt resistance to the wholesale invasion of the civilians' homes, and then surprised by the fact that the French came to tolerate, if not like, many of the German soldiers who had taken over their village.

I gave this book four stars for two reasons: First, it starts a little slowly. It takes awhile to get the lay of the land (literally -- you will definitely find the map at the beginning of the book helpful) and isn't all that riveting in the beginning. And second (spoiler alert), the lack of a definite conclusion was a little disappointing. This isn't the author's fault, and he does his best to determine, using 80-year-old evidence, to find out who the traitors are, but it's nonetheless a little unsatisfying. Still, this is overall an interesting and informative read.
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