Ranks alongside Guy Chapmans' "A Passionate Prodigality" as one of the finest personal memoirs of the conflict. Huntly Gordon is in his final years in Clifton College when the war breaks out, and the initial chapters describe rather eerily the growing realisation that this is an immense and society shattering conflict without precident. The list of Clifton Old Boys killed and maimed grows steadily through 1914 and 1915 and the reader gets a good understanding of the domestic impact of loss, in this instance on a public school, but it must of been similar in all realms of society. Huntly Gordon firmly believing that this German outrage needs to be repulsed becomes an artilleryman, and quite matter of factly accepts that his new profession (and he sees it very much as his job) is to kill as many Germans as possible.
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 In late 1917 and early 1918 Huntly is withdrawn to quieter sectors (although he is in reserve at Cambrai), and then catches the full force of the German onslaught in the spring/summer of 1918, where his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.
I've read quite a few WWI memoirs, and this is as good as any and better than most. For one thing it gives an artilleryman's perspective rather than the more usual infantryman's from the trenches. I'd never really considered what things were like from the gunner's perspective and had assumed they were so far back they were pretty safe - but I discovered that's far from true!
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.
This is a superb memoir. The author's son has done all Western Front students a great favour by bringing out and editing a new edition of this book, first published in 1967. Its message and tone are very much at odds with other more destructive works about the Great War in that decade. It is very well written, easily readable, with nice touches of humour and very moving, especially in its final chapter. The author is a gunner subaltern and describes the battles of 1917-18 from that perspective. It illuminates the gunner's role better than any other memoir I have read, and is up there with the best of the more numerous infantry memoirs. I also much enjoyed the descriptions of life at Clifton before and during the early years of the war, some of them managing to be both poignant and amusing. Very strongly recommended.
This is a memoir and series of letters, edited by his son, that Huntly Gordon sent from the Allied front-line in Belgium and France in 1917 and 1918 to his mother. Gordon was a young second lieutenant in the Field Artillery and his correspondence eloquently describes the harsh and highly dangerous world of the artilleryman during the Great War. But this is more than a standard account of the unrelenting nastiness, for the author has a wonderfully wry sense of humour, as well as close observation skills and a rare ability to interpret with intelligence the chaos that engulfed his world. He writes of the real inner war of attempting to combat fear without showing it that accompanies the loud and terrible external conflict. Huntly Gordon was wounded in 1918 and survived the war.
As an ex-Gunner officer myself, in a Field Regiment, this book grabbed my attention immediately. I joined some 60/65 years later than the author and thank God that I did not go through what he did. An absolutely fascinating book; I bought my copy on Saturday afternoon and it's now only Tuesday evening - and I've been at work for two days. If it's a valid word "Unputdownable". This book will be re-read many times.