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Harry’s War Paperback – 31 Jul 2014
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"A lost diary of the Great War so brutally vivid you'll feel you are there in the trenches" (Daily Mail)
"One of the best diaries of the First World War" (Rodderick Suddaby, former keeper of the Department of Documents at the Imperial War Museum)
"Unique ... an unvarnished view of the war’s horrors – and its occasional joys" (Telegraph)
"A remarkable insight into the mind of a man who went through WW1 as an infantryman in the trenches, private and officer ... No-one who wants to understand the truth about the trenches can ignore this book" (Colonel John Hughes-Wilson)
The remarkable First World War diary of Private Harry Drinkwater, published for the first timeSee all Product description
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The Great War as it really was.
Mud over the tops of their boots, wet, miserable, frozen, hungry, deprived of sleep, even when in reserve, rats, fleas, all are here as well as the sense of being afraid but ultimately accepting that many who took over the front line would have "gone west" by the end of their days of endless waiting, watching and guarding. Often Harry's mental attitude comes through in his writing. Always asking why, never really finding an answer but all the same, doing a patriotic duty at any cost. This comes glaring off these pages.
It is a long book, it might appear repetitive in places, but that is by no means a criticism. It was a very long War and the part played by Harry and millions like him was very repetitive. Stalemate for years in trenches of mud mixed with the bodies of mates you joined up with as well as the perceived enemy.
It could be the diary of any one of millions who served but it is the diary of a survivor.
Ebury Press, hardback, £20.00, 395pp., ills, index.
This book is a real pleasure to read. It has been skilfully edited by Jon Cooksey - with the wholehearted support of David Griffiths, the current owner of the diary - with just the right amount of additional background text. Too often one finds editors seeming to want to crowbar in the whole history of the war. Refreshingly, Cooksey evades such an elephant trap by restraining himself to the bare minimum of commentary, allowing Harry Drinkwater to tell his own story. I particularly like that the editor has looked up and confirmed the fate of the men we encounter in turning the pages.
The diary entries are a veritable torrent of fascinating information. I have conducted many oral history interviews for the Imperial War Museum and this diary shares the immediacy of those oral accounts, bringing to life the very zeitgeist of the experience for millions of men in the trenches: the awful smells and dreadful sights; being lathered in sweat from the back-breaking working parties, or drenched by the pouring rain; men up to their knees in mud, blood and water. All the clichés perhaps, but given depth and meaning here by the very restraint with which Drinkwater expresses his trials and tribulations.
Life was certainly not mundane for Harry Drinkwater at the front with the 15th Royal Warwickshire Regiment - the 2nd Birmingham Pals. Rapped on the helmet by a sniper's bullet, mining and visceral crater fighting near Arras, in the thick of it and going 'over the top' on the Somme, once covered in maggots from a bloated corpse, blasted by shells here, there and everywhere, he led a charmed life. Many of his friends - his best friend amongst them - were not so lucky and he movingly recounts their awful demise. On one occasion, he reflects the sheer drama of watching a ration party struggling through with heavy dixies. Real characters shine through, like Lance Corporal Sidney Page, a mere lad who grew into his position before being killed on the Somme.
Drinkwater served in the line until January 1917, after which he underwent officer training in Ireland. He returned to serve as a second lieutenant with the 16th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, just in time for the delights of Third Ypres. Now he had a real responsibility for the lives and very survival of the men he commanded with distinction in the attacks on the German field `fortress' that had been the Polderhoek Chateau north of Gheluvelt. A brief interlude in Italy is followed by a return to the Western Front where he was finally wounded on a night raid in June 1918. One gains a sense that he was, right from the start, an excellent officer. Unlike memoirs written, or worse still, edited in the 1960s, there is no resort to purple prose and trite ex-post facto commentary. Drinkwater himself is an intelligent and likeable man, an insightful observer with whom one can really empathise.
The diary also accurately reflects that the soldiers were not always in the trenches, not always going 'over the top'. The British Army devoted an enormous amount of effort to constantly rotating the battalions around between the front, support and reserve lines and rest. The very fact that this is a daily record allows us to see the other side of the Western Front: the periods out of the line, the billets, the working parties, the recreations. Occasionally a lovely touch shines through, like the heartfelt impact of real football jerseys worn during a game while out on rest.
The illustrations, although poorly reproduced by the publisher, added a great deal to my enjoyment of the book, it was fascinating to see photos of the subject and the characters that crop up in the narrative. The photos also include pictures of the ephemera related to Drinkwater in what must be the magnificent collection of David Griffiths. I particularly liked the depiction of the German bayonet scabbard Drinkwater sent home as a souvenir after alert sentry-keeping had thwarted a German bombing raid in 1916.
All in all Harry's War reflects a strange world, but the commonality of human nature also brings it closer, sometimes almost too close in some of the rawer passages. A fantastic book and a credit to everyone involved.
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reading chronologically of the war thorough the experiences of Harry, was...Read more
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