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The Unreturning Army Hardcover – 7 Nov 2013
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"One of the best First World War memoirs I've read - honest, intelligent and vivid, as fresh as if written yesterday." (ALLAN MALLINSON The Times)
"One of the best half-dozen memoirs . . . Your father writes beautfiully, had an interesting war and emerges as a man who did his bit without being overwhelmed by the horror or elated by the dark beauty of violence" (RICHARD HOLMES, author of Redcoat, Tommy etc.)
"I have never read anything that gives such a vivid description of the hell of Passchendaele - nor of the spirit that enabled our troops to survive it." (PROFESSOR SIR MICHAEL HOWARD)
"A haunting account of the loss of a generation" (Good Book Guide, Jan 2014)
A classic account of one man's experiences on the Western Front - now republished in a revised and expanded edition in anticipation of the centenary of the First World War, 1914-18...See all Product description
Top customer reviews
The book is brilliant on detail, and provides a fascinating close up view of the appalling 3rd Ypres battles of 1917 where in fact he encounters action for the first time, and describes the practical realities of trying to stop horses, mules and men from drowning in mud. It also gives a matter of fact, but unnerving description of the experience of being under heavy shellfire. In late 1917 and early 1918 Huntly is withdrawn to quieter sectors (although he is in reserve at Cambrai), and then catches the full force of the German onslaught in the spring/summer of 1918, where his account of the chaos of the Allied retreat really enhanced my understanding of this phase of the conflict. He is badly wounded during a "backs to the wall" stand at Meteren and his life his saved by the prompt, brave and competent action of a fellow officer and loyal men. When they get him on to a stretcher and have to cross open space under heavy machine gun fire seeing a brave and badly wounded man, the German gunner ceases fire. The book is full of poignant personal moments like this. The description of his medical treatment and recovery is fascinating, and it makes one realise just how medieval the treatment of badly wounded men was in a pre-antibiotic and pre-painkiller age.
This compelling account is interspersed with great humour, and lovely and moving personal vignettes, such as the account of him having to discipline a bus driver for being late for work in his post war employment as an inspector for London Transport. The driver asks him if he happened to have been a British Officer badly wounded during the Meteren actions in the spring of 1918. The driver turns out to be one of the men that dragged him to safety under heavy fire. The matter of fact, but somewhat incongruous nature of this piece of happenstance reduced me to tears.
There was no glory in this conflict, just endurance, professionalism, and a commitment to professionalism and doing your own job well. Huntly Gordon was not yet 20 years old. A brilliant, informative and moving account which ranks with the greats. Essential reading for those interested in social and behavioural aspects of the First World War, but also strong on technical and military detail.
Even though this was written as letters home with no view to publication, the writing is so good it's better than many actual, often ghost-written, memoirs. The account is honest, insightful and revealing. You get a good feeling for what it was actually like to be there, and at times the story powerful and moving - especially towards the end.
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