By Jane Wilson
Our August meeting started with the recommendation of ‘It’s Only Me’ by David Raw, a biography of the Reverend Theodore Hardy, a military chaplain in WW1. The book follows Hardy through childhood, University years, ordination into the Church of England, family and work life, and then primarily his service as a military chaplain. He was renowned for remaining up and close to the soldiers in the regiments he served, and as well as discovering how he supported those in the trenches, the book also details the incidents that earned him a Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and a Victoria Cross. These awards made him the most decorated non-combatant in the First World War.
By coincidence, the second book we talked about was ‘Life After Tragedy – Essays on Faith and the First World War, evoked by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy’ (a contemporary and influencer of Theodore Hardy). The combined essays study WW1 from a theological point of view, and are contributions from people connected with Worcester Cathedral, where Kennedy first preached to the troops. The essays cover topics such as commemoration, war memorials, poetry in war time, social reform and humanitarianism. Each essay also links views on faith in today’s world and societies. A quote from Jay Winter of Yale University in his review of the book states ‘Essential reading for anyone trying to understand the earthquake that was the Great War’.
Africa was our next port of call, with a book suggestion written by Owen Sheers called ‘The Dust Diaries’. Sheers writes about an obscure relative, Arthur Cripps, a poet, Anglican priest and missionary to Southern Rhodesia at the beginning of the 20th century. Cripps is a witness to WW1 fighting in East Africa, and a supporter of the native peoples. In his book, Sheers traces his relatives travels and influence in Africa, whilst looking at contemporary issues facing modern day Zimbabwe.
For a change, our next recommendation was a DVD rather than a book, and was a documentary by Dan Snow, ‘Battle of the Somme’. Taking as its focus the 1917 silent film about the Battle of Ancre and the increasing use of tanks, Snow looks at the history of the Battle of Ancre using the newly restored film to help understand the battle, the film that was made at the time, and the development of capturing live WW1 action at the time.
‘Englanders and Huns; The Culture Clash Which Led to the First World War’ by James Hawes concentrates on the cultural clash between England and Germany, starting in the middle 19th century and leading up to and into the First World War. Hawes looks at how words and pictures can inform ideas and opinions of one population about another, and looks at how cartoons, books, newspapers and magazine articles can create stereotypes of a nation. It provides an alternative way of looking at the beginning of the conflict rather than the more usual political or military view.
Sebastian Barry’s ‘A Long Long Way’ is a novel about WW1, set alongside the political turmoil seen in Ireland at the same time. The central character, Willie Dunne, volunteers to fight as a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the book follows the conflict he experiences in Europe as well as the build up to conflict back home in the Easter Rising in 1916.
‘The Forgotten Soldier’ by Charlie Connelly was an account of a very ordinary London lad who was killed, aged 19, on 4 November 1918 – just a week before the Armistice. Somehow we all felt that his death, so close to the end of the war, was that much more poignant, even though we couldn’t really explain our reaction. Edward Connelly was the author’s great-uncle, who was astonished to discover that his father hadn’t even known about his uncle – he hadn’t been mentioned by the family. Charlie Connelly tried to find out about his great-uncle but actually found it very difficult, so he supplements his account with memories recorded by soldiers in the same battles, same areas, same places. As his own form of remembrance he walked from London to Edward Connelly’s grave in the New British Cemetery at Harlebeke where a chance encounter gave him an insight into Edward’s last days.
We finished off our meeting with one of our members talking about some recent work she has undertaken for a visitor to a Bowes Museum Open Day. She had been translating from French various pieces of information relating to a Belgian soldier who ended up in England during the war. For a short time, Pierre Louis Vermote was found work in a munitions factory in Birtley, before spending a period of time in Winterton Lunatic Asylum near Sedgefield, dying there in 1918. Our book group would be interested in hearing more about Pierre Vermote from anyone who knows more information – please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our next Book Group meeting will be on Tuesday 19th September at 2.30 and we look forward to welcoming new members.