HERTFORDSHIRE SOLDIERS OF THE GREAT WAR
Author: Dan Hill, Paul Johnson
Publisher: Pen & Sword (Frontline Books); 304 pages with numerous photographs
Published: May 2020
Publishers blurb … In Hertfordshire Soldiers of The Great War the authors explore a series of individual case studies of Hertfordshire men who served in various theatres during the First World War, all of which had been uncovered as part of the Herts At War community project. This unique collection of largely unknown accounts includes stories from the Western Front, Gallipoli, Salonika, Mesopotamia, East Africa, Egypt and even Russia in the fight against the Bolsheviks in 1919. The Herts At War team uncovered many letters and objects in the course of their research, including men who were Victoria Cross winners to those whose courage or bravery went unrecognised, as well as stoicism on the Home Front. One of the most moving of these surrounds a photograph which was found in the hands of Sergeant Percy Buck as he lay fatally wounded in a shell hole in 1917. On the back of the photograph of his wife and young son he had written his address and asked for whoever found the image to post it to his loved ones in the event of his death. Sergeant Buck would have assumed it would be a British comrade who would find the photograph, but the person who recovered it was a German soldier who subsequently sent it on to the grieving, but grateful, family. The war memorials of Hertfordshire contain the names of over 23,000 men and women who gave their lives whilst in the service of their country during the Great War; some of their tales are uncovered here. Indeed, the poignant collection of stories, anecdotes and artefacts revealed in this book bring the First World War to life in an unusual and highly moving fashion.
REVIEW: As an early supporter of the Herts At War project I was privileged to hear some of the county’s Great War stories as many of them were discovered during the Great War centenary. As a consequence of this project, historians Dan Hill and Paul Johnson have since put together this wonderful book, Hertfordshire Soldiers of the Great War. I was fortunate to work with Dan and Paul as a battlefield guide on their tours to France and Flanders during the centenary years of 2016, 2017 and 2018 when we followed in the footsteps of the 1/1 Hertfordshire Regiment. The highlight of this tour was 2017, when on 31st July, many attended the unveiling of a memorial to the Hertfordshire Regiment at St Julien, near Ypres. It was on this ground that so many of the regiment became casualties, and thus a fitting place to locate this memorial. During these tours I was also fortunate enough to meet many of the relatives of Hertfordshire’s men and women who had played their parts in the 1914-18 war. It is nice to see that many of their stories have been included in this book for the wider readership to benefit,
With stories of bravery, including those recognised with the Victoria Cross, such as Lieutenant Martin-Leake, RAMC, who has the rare distinction of being awarded the VC twice, and the Hertfordshire Regiments own, Sergeant Frank Young VC. One story which fascinated me was that of Lewis gunner, Corporal William Taylor MM. Bill’s medals are in the custodianship of his grandson who also inherited Bill's thick leather wallet, packed with photographs, that helped save Bill’s life by stopping a piece of shrapnel. Reading the stories and handling objects such as these is an experience that helps anyone connect with history. Many soldiers were not recognised with a gallantry award, but did their bit. Sometimes this contribution was paid for with their lives, such as the first to fall, Second Lieutenant Joseph Mead during the action at Mons, to some of the last in 1918, 1919 and beyond. Another soldier that was included is Private Percy Black. Percy went missing during the Hertfordshire Regiments attack on 31 July 1917 at Ypres. It later transpired that a German found his body and finding a personal photograph clasped in his lifeless hand, returned it via the Red Cross to his wife. A sad but poignant story. This German soldier survived the war.
Over 23,000 men of Hertfordshire lost their lives in the 1914-18 war, a small fraction of those that served on either the Home Front or overseas. Through the vignettes chosen, along with a clear and concise narrative of the war, this book is in a way a memorial to all of them. Well researched and well written in a style that is engaging throughout. Recommended for those interested in not only Great War history, but county and social history.
Pen & Sword Link: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Hertfordshire-Soldiers-of-The-Great-War-Hardback/p/17710