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A Foreign Field Paperback – 1 Jul 2002
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In A Foreign Field Ben MacIntyre has found another story from history's margins In two previous books, Forgotten Fatherland and The Napoleon of Crime, he focused on characters from the footnotes of history, creating compelling narratives from the stories of Nietzsche's sister and of a Victorian master criminal, brought it centre stage and constructed a very powerful drama of love, war and death around it. Robert Digby was a well-educated, middle-class private in the British Expeditionary Force at the beginning of World War I. In the very first month of the war, as the British, French and German armies surged back and forth across tracts of northern France, he became isolated behind enemy lines. When the fluid front lines of the war's first phase rapidly hardened into the murderous stalemate of the trenches, Digby and other British soldiers were permanently trapped in German-occupied territory. Seven, including Digby, took refuge in the small village of Villeret and were given shelter and assistance by the villagers. Under the noses of the German occupiers, they lived in Villeret for 18 months, masquerading as villagers. Relationships between the French peasants and the British soldiers grew strong. Digby fell in love with Claire Dessenne, the 19-year-old daughter of one of his protectors. In November 1915 Claire gave birth to Digby's daughter. Six months later someone in the village betrayed the men to the Germans. Digby and three others were captured, tried as spies and executed by firing squad. Digby's daughter, now in her 80s, still lives in northern France. Using her memories and those of other villagers, archive material and a handful of surviving letters by Digby (including one written to Claire only hours before his execution), Macintyre has produced a real-life story of the First World War as poignant and moving as Sebastian Faulks's novel Birdsong. --Nick Rennison --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'A simple and touching tale of self-sacrificing courage and love in war ! turns into a page-turning mystery and a spy story worthy of Deighton or le Carre. I loved it' The Times 'I loved "A Foreign Field", the true story of an English soldier stranded behind enemy lines ! at once a great romance, a war story, a social history and a whodunit' Sunday Telegraph 'At the simplest level this is a love story. Stirring, ambitious and profound, this is storytelling at its very best' Sunday Times 'The true story of seven British soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, with brilliant research, [Macintyre has] built a powerful picture of what life was like for the Picardy villagers who protected them. I was fascinated' Evening StandardSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
Just one look at the eyes of the Claire Dessenne in her photograph in the book, a young woman who became the love of one the soliders hiding out in a French village, is shattering when you have read what occurred.
I won't go into the events in any detail, that will be the joy and heartache of the read for you.
This is the second MacIntyre book I have read about real events. Agent Zizag was the first, and Josiah The Great is currently the third. And I have one issue. It was not enough to knock off a star, but it was close.
MacIntyre seems so excited by his source material he seems unable to keep the twists back in the pages where they need to be. Every so often he will say something like 'and he met two men, who would become great friends........until one of them turned against him.'
Right, okay, Ben, sort of building me up but spoiling the twist, mate. Then you realise. This is a newspaper reporter writing a full length novel and falling into the 'must make the paragraph gripping so they will read on' syndrome - it's the trick that newspaper journalists use to make you read the WHOLE article and not just the headline and first paragraph.
You get used to it, but I hope he loses it soon. Just the short examples I have read of his work show he has the nose for a good, gripping and touching story.
No need for the 'grippers'.......
Oh, last point......this MUST be filmed. Tremendous real life story. And top marks for the 'after the events' closure.
Whilst the facts behind the story can only be sketchy the author has painstaking researched his brief and fleshed out this little known cameo into a genuinely interesting and emotionally involving story. Little is actually known about many of the main protagonists, in itself a sobering reminder of just what destruction occurred between 1914 and 1918 and Mr MacIntyre deserves much credit for painting such a vivid picture with such little material.
To be critical I felt that perhaps more could have been said about the relationship between Robert Digby and Claire Dessenne but with so much doubt I guess the author deserves some credit for staying within the boundaries of what material he had and not flying off into romantic conjecture. Written as a novel or portrayed in film this could be quite some story however so it's maybe a shame that this wasn't considered when writing.
Can I also recommend that anyone with the means and time to visit the graves of the 4 soldiers do what I did some years ago and make the effort. An already goose bump enducing story is made even more so looking at the stones at the back of a small churchyard in rural france. The carnage of World War I is sometimes hard to take in when such huge casualty numbers and enormous graveyards are considered. The Menin Gate at Ypres alone has the names of over 50,000 men killed and never found inscribed on it. Perhaps this small and hard to find row, with the lives of those carved known more personally because of this book, brings the true horrors of the Great War into a sharper focus than anything.
The story of the 'four Englishmen of Villeret' and their untimely betrayal(by whom?) makes gripping reading.I found myself concerned for the soldiers and villagers and the circumstances in which they found themselves and although I was aware of the fate that befell them, the ending was not ruined. This due to Ben MacIntyre's painstaking research and interviews with the descendents of all involved in 1916. He puts forward theories of the locals as well as his own, but ultimately the reader is left to make their own assumptions as to 'whodunnit?'
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