Monday, 24 November 2014

A Foreign Field - Ben MacIntyre

On the 100th anniversary of WW1, as a nation here in the UK we have marked that event with a river of poppies at the Tower of London.  Some of us have read books set in that 1914-18 war.  A lot of fiction based on fact has been written on the subject, some of which would have a startling effect on you when read for the first time.  Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful is always one that I recommend if you wanted to read a little something (written for young readers, it is readable by any age) about that dreadful war.  And of course, War Horse  by the same author can be read by any age.  This year I also read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque which looks at the German view of your average young soldier. Just change the names from Fritz to Joe, Heinrich to Henry, and the view is the same.  Then, for a female view of war, there is My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Maria Young.  It touches on the terrible injuries inflicted on young men, who had to live on with those injuries and has it's title based on postcards made available in field hospitals and places of recuperation, made to be filled in, so that the first part of the card read:

My dear................... (insert name, or mother, brother, wife etc)
I wanted to tell you ....................(that I am alive/well/injured but alive etc)

So for my November anniversary read I chose a non-fiction book - A Foriegn Field by Ben MacIntyre - a journalist who finds a hardly known story and gives it to you complete, research done, and very readable.  You might like to try Agent ZigZag for a riveting tale of WW2.

But with A Foreign Field MacIntyre brings to you a story that is very definitely not fiction, Those written about really did exist, and this small book (261 pages excluding bibliography, notes and index) will tell you not only the truth about a small assorted party of soldiers trapped in occupied France, but also facts about the war in the area to the north east of the Somme that was totally devastated, how and why; about a small village which thrived on gossip, the personalities there, and what happened after those soldiers where taken in and hidden by the villagers.  The number of total dead on all sides in WW1 is so large I have never been able to take it in - but reading this, I found myself stunned by the numbers who died in a day in several battles over the course of the war in this area.  I found myself questioning what exactly was going on in Villeret and the other small villages around about.  Towards the end of the book I found my questions answered in a satisfying way, even though mostly by questions the author asks i.e. what was he doing?  did they know? why didn't they?
An excellent example of how good research tells a good story.  Recommended, especially if you want to find out about a small place in a big war.
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