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One of the best (and most famous) Great War memoirs
on 11 July 2012
The second battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers is without doubt the most written-about battalion in the most written-about war in history. From this unit we have memoirs by, among others, Sassoon, Graves, and Dunn (The War the Infantry Knew - surely the finest WW1 memoir of all), but they were all officers. Frank Richards was a private soldier who repeatedly refused promotion (that he was pure Sergeant-Major material oozes out of every page) and left this wonderfull plainly-written and easily-readable memoir.
Richards was an intelligent man, but not well-educated or cultured, and we learn about the war from the point of view of a tough man, a Welsh miner by trade, who will only have a drink as long as there is enough of it to get properly drunk, and who is excited at the discovery of a chateau-full of antique furniture because of the vast amount of firewood it can be broken down into.
From Le Cateau in 1914, to La Cateau again in November 1918, Richards defied the odds and survived - this is no fiction: extensive records and writings show that Richards' account is surprisingly accurate. His friends and companions are constantly being wounded or dying, and it is chilling to note that in WW1 among Regular Army battalions, 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers suffered merely average casualties.
As a soldier's account, rather than an officer's, Richards' book is an essential read for anyone interested in the war, not least because it is quoted by so many WW1 historians, and it is good to see all those quotes in context, and so get a measure of the man and how he expressed himself.
A wonderful book.