A Foreign Field Paperback – 5 Aug 2010
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
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?'
This is a story of love, bravery, betrayal and tragedy elegantly told by a seasoned Times journalist. Of course, the tale itself is compelling, but the real value of this extraordinary book is the detailed picture it provides of how war changes people, destroys entire cultures, depriving communities of their past, their present and their futures.
A Foreign Field's focus on one village, one community gives the reader an opporunity to chart the wider human destructiveness of war.
MacIntyre's brings all the characters to life and tells the story with the skill of an accomplished novelist.
Centred around the town of Villeret in Picardy, characters (exceptionally well-researched) are brought to life as villains or heros. Sympathetically and at times humerously written, it portrays the confusion of war, and the fact that it will often bring out both the best and the worst in people.
This book will particularly appeal to those with an amateur interest in the history of the First World War, due to the painstaking research that went into the book. eg Reading about the last (brave and desparate) cavalry charge of any major war, with the proud French cavalry, charging German machine gun lines was heart-rending and evocative. It also is a great chance to understand and share in the hopes and fears of young British soldiers lost in a foreign field.
Fact mixed with fiction: a great mix when written so well.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An intriguing story, full of atmosphere. However, I am having difficulty in relating the characters, possibly due to the unfamiliarity of foreign names. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Ian MacMillan
Very interesting. A tiny piece of history but it brought alive the daily life of civilans in a war. Amazing research was obviously carried out by the author to build such a... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Lucy Apple
An excellent book. Really good in depth detail about the characters and a great read.Published 15 months ago by Colin Harrison
Years ago I read the original book and found it very fascinating with full of details bringing WWI close and sharply alive. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Eva Szoke
An account rather than a story. Didn't have much interest in who betrayed the men. But still an interesting account of one aspect of the Great war.Published 17 months ago by Pam B.
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