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on 12 May 2016
This brought tears to my eyes on many occasions. How Stephen was able to select those men for 'team' is the mark of a good writer, although I suspect that he would given the same care and attention to any he selected. This is a tremendous read. I couldn't put it down as we went through both the prewar rugby matches and the Great War. You don't have to be a rugby fan to appreciate this because it is so well written that it would keep even the casual reader engrossed. It is well worth it's award.
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on 27 March 2017
Great gift for my son in law.
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on 13 May 2013
I knew I was going to enjoy this book as Rugby and military history are two of my enduring passions, what I was not ready for was the depth of information the author teased out and the interlinking of the various stories. A fascinating cross section of men and differnt wars they fought. I was particularly moved to read of the war poet Nowell Oxlands friend Captain DL Martin whose request to silence a flanking German machine gun before they went over the top was ignored, 160 soldiers (inc. Captain Martin) were buried in the trench they had just left. I had taken a picture of his gravestone on my phone 7 years previously on a visit to the battlefields.
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on 15 April 2013
The Final Whistle is an extraordinary book, beautifully written, astonishingly well-researched, moving and, in many ways, demanding of us, that brings the chronology of the First World war to life through the stories of fifteen rugby players, all members of the same South West London club.
The club was Rosslyn Park, founded in 1879, and it was from its grounds on Henry VIII's ancient deer park at Richmond that many of the finest of England's Edwardian flowering hung their boots up while they dedicated themselves for four long and hard-fought seasons to a more serious game.
The figures are horrible. Of around 350 Park men that took the colours, at least 72 were to die and many more were wounded, often to be maimed forever. The extraordinary contribution of these young athletes was often unrecorded but was also recognised in numerous feats of bravery, by numerous awards including over sixty MCs and two VCs.
In his brilliant opening essay and in the amazingly researched individual biographies, Stephen Cooper is the best kind of historian, making shape of the conflict and bringing into the light from dark and forgotten corners, the stories of sacrifice and bravery of so many of the 'young men, whether from the Australian outback, Indian railway or industrial Wales' who were linked by the companionship of the team and the shared ideals of their club and their country.
As Stephen Cooper himself puts it...'what emerges from the lives of these rugby men is a remarkable history in miniature of the entire war, across all fronts, theatres and engagements.' Through his great skill as a writer he shows us how...'some inherent quality of bravery or natural leadership saw rugby men take the lead as they had on the field' and how...'youthful hopes - the promise of life, adventure, love - turned swiftly to fears of death, dismemberment, squalor and insanity'.
This is a wonderful book, a labour of love from the finest of minds and the most diligent of researchers. It is an important contribution to the history of the Great war and deserves the widest of readerships.
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on 27 November 2012
As a (sporadic) Rosslyn Park spectator, this book really struck home.
Sensitively, deftly - and with the most astonishing depth of research - the author reveals the inner lives of 15 extraordinary Park men. One especially stays in the mind - Nowell Oxland - whose final haunting poem was sent to The Times by his long-term friend Amy, and published posthumously. Commentators at the time said:'a soul that gave expression to such fine pages must have a wonderful vision of life.' Nearly a century later, it seems Stephen Cooper and Amy have much in common; both have brought a remarkable insight on war to the notice of us all. Don't let these fine pages pass you by.
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on 15 February 2017
disappointing, far too much irrelevant detail spoils what might have been an interesting story.
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on 15 October 2013
This is an extremely well researched history explained with a mixture of pathos, anger, and a fine sense of morbid humor for and on behalf of his subjects. He pulls no punches in his comments on army leadership or, to be more accurate, lack of leadership. Such comments as "...most officers were dead and the NCOs and men knew little or nothing of what was expected of them..", or "....Officers of field rank on entering balloons are not expected to wear spurs....", and "...the price paid in flesh and blood for unpreparedness for war.." jostle for space.

Rosslyn Park lost 72 of its members killed or missing in action. These young men came mainly from the much expanding middle and upper-middle classes that were the engine room of the Empire's march around the planet in the 19th century. The author zones in on the history of 15 of these young men representing not only their rugby and personal backgrounds but that most of them went automatically into the officer ranks and to their death in ignorance of what warfare was all about. They were facing a most professional army that had largely destroyed the British regular army in the second half of 1914 and the beginning of 1915. With little or no real training for themselves and their soldiers, they entered the lists with vigor, hope and expectation of victory.

The author weaves into each story of each of the men not only family history and how each got to where each was when he died, but also a history of the event in which each was involved. We therefore meet a poet, Count Zeppelin, mad kite balloonists, and confused tankers. And also, the Dardenelles, Syria, Italy campaigns, the Easter uprising and Zeebrugge but above all else, the dreaded Western Front. So we have both personal history and a sound insight into the battle conditions under which they all had to serve.

This is a worthwhile piece of research, well written and helpful in our understanding of the horrors of that awful war as it affected ordinary men. Their epitaph is maybe summed up in a comment about the Zeebrugge venture; "..They were issued with naval cutlasses...which also made useful cricket stumps.....".
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on 28 November 2012
If, like me, you're not a fan of rugby, don't be put off; it was Ian Hislop's glowing recommendation that persuaded me to read The Final Whistle, and how right he was. The earlier reviews - all of them five-star - sum up the book perfectly: painstakingly researched, superbly written, extremely interesting and informative. Although I'm unlikely ever to warm to the fifteen-a-side code, I shall certainly want to read more from the brilliant Stephen Cooper.
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on 26 August 2014
Top down or bottom up? The vogue in the writing of history has changed diametrically in the last twenty years or so, the bottom feeders showing the experiences of those more subjected to authority than exercising it. In so doing they have discovered some very rich veins of experience previously neglected or - worse - dismissed.

Steve Cooper's ingenious addition to the genre omits Haig, Kitchener, Nivelle, Petain et al in favour of fifteen men from Rosslyn Park rugby club. Most were low and middle-ranking officers, many of them public school boys. All were killed fighting in what was called the Great War only until Hitler decided to go one, perhaps two, better.

Steve - and I should declare an interest that he and I did time together in an advertising agency in the 'eighties - has excelled himself in executing this idea. Of the 350 club members who served, 72 died. The fifteen he has selected demonstrate very well the diversity of background and experience of the men that the conflict drew together, the variety of theatres in which they served and died, and the granularity of their individual experiences. He also skilfully sets their lives within the context of the various settings, from the Western Front and Gallipoli to the rather more novel perils of the Royal Flying Corps in its struggle with the Zeppelins and the British Tank Corps. His brief lives are poignant ones: men of courage, talent, ambition and - in some cases - evanescent fulfilment, whose existences enjoyed no summer. All were victims of a war-mongering that is entirely timeless, together with the new-fangled technology that so invariably improves our lives; in this case the Maxim machine-gun. As Steve shows, Sir Hiram's brainchild brought to death a process of industrialisation only to be improved a few years later in Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor. Sir Hiram had taken the idea from a fellow-American, who had advised him in 1881,'If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others' throats with great facility.' He did.

I don't think this quite adds up to the book's sub-title - The Great War in Fifteen Players - but one book hardly could. What it does do is provide a vivid, graphic account of these truncated lives and a leper's squint into the war as whole. It does this supremely well.

It will - I assume - be bettered only by Steve's next book, which I ought to complete the story. For where there are Players, surely there are Gentlemen too.
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on 30 April 2014
Military history is not everyone's cup of tea. Nor, to be fair, is rugby union. Yet Cooper has written a book about the lives of rugby players from his club killed in the Great War, which is not overwhelmed either by the details of the game or of the War. He includes enough about the game for the aficionado to appreciate how it was played at the beginning of the last century and enough of the War to follow the roles of his chosen fifteen players. But at no point does he lose sight of the men themselves.

His club, Rosslyn Park in West London, lost over eighty players in the War and one suspects Cooper has chosen his Park XV for variety - airmen, gunners, 'balloonatics,' Royal Marines and the Poor Bloody Infantry all appear, serving and dying in theatres as far flung as Iraq, Italy, Ireland, and Gallipoli. Some are from the Empire, others from the Home Counties. A few of them are regulars but his selection is dominated by the 'temporary gentlemen,' middle class civilians commissioned as junior officers in the burgeoning wartime services. Their pre-war lives, at schools, university and around London bring them to life. As a portrait of a section of society which did indeed suffer A Lost Generation this book is exceptional, backed up by impressive research. Credit too to Cooper's editor, the author's dry asides are engaging and at times exceptionally amusing; the editors of the Wipers Times would undoubtedly approve.
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