Not a massively catchy title. This is a short but beautiful book, mostly it is written by the man himself and edited by Hodder-Williams, with a few comments by him also. It gives a really good idea of what went on in the trenches, and what life was like for ‘Tommy’.
As he says himself: ‘Isn’t it wonderful how many sorrows the British army can drown in a cup of tea?’ I reckon it’s changed a bit since then though.
There is one particular bit, in which the soldier writes about his experiences with the YMCA (while it was still effective, and before it had completely sold out on its origins): ‘I am sure everyone was overstocked with chocolates and cigarettes, for we all kept returning to the counter to buy something just for the sake of a smile or a ‘How are you getting on, Tommy?’ from one of our hostesses. The whistle blew and we all made a rush for our trucks. The ladies stood in a body at the end of the paltform, and as each truck passed waved and wished us good luck. The noise we made was deafening; we cheered and cheered until the little group of England’s unknown heroines on the platform passed from sight. Our hearts were very full.’ That just about says it all. I had to pause a little bit at this point. The line between life and death in this book is so thin, and these acts of kindness really hit home almost as much for the reader as they must have done for the soldiers involved.
There’s also the camaraderie and humour of the trenches too: ‘We have a rare lot of ditties. We often sing across ‘Has anyone seen a German Band,’ or ‘I want my Fritz to play twiddly bits on his old trombone.’ We really have a good bit of fun at times; other days are – crudely, but truthfully putting it – ‘Hell’.’
It’s so sad that these people had to give so much. I wonder what they’d think if they were able to come back. That’s probably not a good thing to wonder.
This is the sort of book you need to read now and again. Like when you forget that Britain hasn’t always been like this. Sometimes it’s been Great.