December Book group report

By Jane Wilson

Our December Book Group meeting started with a seasonal touch, both with the first couple of book choices, and the cold, frosty weather on the day of the meeting.

The first recommendation was “Christmas 1914: The First World War at Home and Abroad” by John Hudson.

An anthology of pieces depicting Christmas both at home and abroad, using newspapers, diaries and periodicals from the time. Short, factual accounts cover events such as the Christmas Truce, life on the Home Front, and snapshots of military life at various points along the Front Line.

The second Christmas themed choice was from the poet Carol Ann Duffy, “The Christmas Truce”.

The book-length poem for children was written to remember the German and British soldiers who joined in a short, unilateral truce over Christmas 1914, and is beautifully illustrated by David Roberts.

The final book in our seasonal selection was “Christmas in the Trenches” by Alan Wakefield.

This book takes first-hand accounts of events happening around Christmas during each year of the war, taking in accounts from people in all parts of the world affected by conflict, ranging from France to Egypt, Salonika to Mesopotamia. Illustrated with photographs and drawings, accounts discuss areas as varied as post arriving from home, concert parties to entertain troops, eating Christmas dinner on the Front Line and the famous Christmas Truces.

Another recommendation was the Daily Telegraphs “Dictionary of the Tommie’s Songs and Slang 1914 – 1918”, compiled by John Brophy and Eric Partridge.

The book has a compilation of songs popular with troops during WW1, musical hall songs from the time and a glossary of slang and phrases commonly used by the ‘Tommies’. The book gives an insight into well-known soldier’s songs, the WW1 origins of phrases maybe still used today and gives an understanding of how the songs could raise the spirits of troops on the march.

“Kitchener’s Mob” by James Norman Hall is the re-telling of Hall’s WW1 experiences of serving, as an American, in the British Army. He joined the 9th Royal Fusiliers and the book is his personal recollection of being an American living, and serving, as a British ‘Tommy’.

We re-visited a book recommended in our last meeting, the prose/poetry writing from David Jones, “In Parenthesis”. One of the group read the book after the last meeting, and while finding it a challenging read, felt the poetic aspects keep the writing concise and descriptive, whilst equally moving.

“Cockerels and Vultures” is a slim volume of poems by Frenchman Albert-Paul Granier, translated by Ian Higgins. A selection of poems that disappeared off the literary radar for decades, and uncovered again in 2008, they convey the reader straight back to WW1 with the sights, sounds and smells that Granier experienced during his own short-lived service in the French military.

Our last book recommendation was the factual book, “The Secret Rooms” by Catherine Bailey.

The book’s front cover blurb describes ‘a castle filled with intrigue, a plotting Duchess and a mysterious death’. The castle is Belvoir Castle in Rutland, the first-born son dies in mysterious circumstances, the Duchess plots to keep her second son and ducal heir from endangering his life during WW1 service and family and official records are maybe destroyed after the war. Catherine Bailey’s access to the Belvoir Castle archives helps shed light on the Rutland intrigue and mystery.

Our next 2017 Book Group meetings in the Bowes Museum Café lounge are planned for 2.30pm on Tuesday 17th January, Tuesday 21st February and 21st March. Why not come and join us?