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Marjorie's War: Four Families in the Great War 1914 - 1918 Hardcover – 1 Mar 2012

5.0 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 460 pages
  • Publisher: Menin House (Mar. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908336196
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908336194
  • Product Dimensions: 24.5 x 3.2 x 17 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,612,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Marjorie's War tells the story of Marjorie Secretan and her two wartime romances which were divided by tragedy. Through letters and diaries we obtain an intimate view of both relationships. Letters which were sent from home and survived the trenches are rare, and those presented here give a female and Home Front perspective on the war and its impact on Edwardian England. However, it is not just her story. Marjorie is the central character who connects the lives of four families. Drawing on an archive of over 800 unpublished letters and 400 photographs, the book also gives insight into life and death in the British Army as seen through the eyes of nine young men from these families. They all volunteered in 1914 and served as infantry and artillery officers. Unusually, the correspondence spans almost the entire duration of the First World War, since at least one of the letterwriters took part in each of the major battles on the Western Front from early 1915 onwards. The letter extracts are supported by original research and over 500 footnotes which describe their context, such as certain key actions affecting the letter-writers.

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Marjorie's War, by Charles and Reginald Fair, is an impressive and finely balanced work that makes a valuable contribution to our overall understanding of the Great War's social history.

Broadly, its subject is the wartime experience of four middle-class Edwardian families that were associated in some way with each other and to the central figure of Marjorie, herself a direct ancestor of the two authors. Her story is woven together with those of nine young men, all of whom served as junior officers in the army during the fighting. It is built around an extensive private collection of primary material, comprising the surviving letters and diaries of its protagonists. The skilful manner in which this resource has been edited and contextualised results in a compelling series of narrative threads encompassing the length of the conflict. The accounts themselves are an illuminating insight into these personalities and their motivations and perceptions, as each individual adapts to their ever-changing situation during the conflict. As a whole, the reader is presented with a fascinating picture of the transformative effects of the war upon this group and on their wider families. Given the nature of the conflict, it perhaps unsurprising that I found parts deeply moving and a salutary insight into the human and emotional cost of war.

While these accounts are the standout feature of the book, it is also vital to underline the quality and extent of the research conducted by the authors, which has provided a backbone to the work. As stated, the path made by each individual during the war has been placed into a detailed and appropriate context. They have drawn on a range of sources including war diaries, personnel records, contemporary accounts and other academic and official histories.
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It is unusual for history to provide us with both sides of a correspondence but that is what we have in Marjorie's War. From an archive of 800 letters Charles Fair and his father have interwoven the stories of four middle class Edwardian families between 1914 and 1919. None of these families had any military background but, between them, they sent nine men to the Western Front. In due time all of them were commissioned and consequently their letters were not censored. Their families retained them and, somehow, many of the letters posted to the front from fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, fiancées and eventually wives.

The lady of the title is Marjorie Secretan who had become friendly with Toby Dodgson in 1913. The authors trace their increasingly passionate relationship through their correspondence as he is commissioned into the 8th Green Howards and she becomes a VAD nurse. For those who think that Edwardian England was all stiff upper lips - think again. Even nice girls were at it - I refer, of course, to Marjorie's confession that she now thinks nothing of lighting cigarettes in public which demonstrates how the war brought standards of social intercourse to new depths of depravity. And nice girls would certainly not write about, let alone indulge in, the other sort, would they...

The authors provide background to the families as they enter the story and summarise it again at the end but readers will probably prefer to follow the characters chronologically to see who will make it through to the end.

As officers our correspondents get leave much more frequently than the soldiers - generally every four or five months and are fortified by innumerable hampers from Fortnum & Masons (the shop must have made a fortune out of the war).
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This book consists of a huge collection of letters and some diary entries which tell the story of four connected families and their experiences in the First World War. The letters are written by Marjorie, her brothers Humphrey and Reggie, her first fiancé Toby, his brothers Philip and Guy, and Marjorie’s second fiancé Charles with some entries from Marjorie’s diary. They have been very skilfully edited and assembled to form a proper narrative which is very readable. The editors, descendants of the letter writers, have added some background or explanatory material to help set the scene or fill in explanatory details but these have been kept to a minimum. For those requiring more detail there are ample footnotes.

Marjorie and the men come from comfortably off middle class families. The men have public school, Oxbridge backgrounds and were all junior commissioned officers in the army, although some did see service in the ranks first. However, they did spend time “in the thick of it” in the trenches with the men; some were injured and some killed. Just like the private soldiers, they very much resented the staff officers who never saw action and enjoyed much more comfortable accommodation etc. Marjorie worked as a volunteer nurse in England and later as a boarding school teacher.

It is amazing that such a large collection of connected letters have survived, especially the ones sent out to the Front by Marjorie but even more remarkable are the number of photographs that were taken and preserved, some showing life in the trenches or rest camps. The book gives a real insight into what it was like for those who experienced the famous events of the Great War and, for me, there were plenty of surprises and things I never knew before.
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