As well as a lovely stack of the Profile Books, Wonders of the World series, this week has also seen the arrival of two lovely little packages from Hesperus Press and coincidentally from these different publishers two books about the Great War that speak to each other. Perhaps not such a coincidence given that Armistice Day approaches and that always offers a good opportunity for some memorable wartime reading, a theme I usually seem to honour in early November without really realising so.
I wonder if as I get older the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month becomes more poignant and more deeply embedded in my mind, because somehow I do find it all more and more moving year on year. Watching the Tinker out on parade probably adds to the emotion too.
This time last year saw the launch of the Tinker's (father of dgr) book.
Bugle Boy published by Long Barn Books has taken him all over the place including guest of honour at the Royal Marines School of Music and contact from countless people around the world who have read the book, including recently a special visit from a Norwegian man researching the saga of the funeral and more specifically the men being buried.
With the author's permission (!) I'll post that story 'Funerals' here on Remembrance Sunday this year.
The Wonders of the World have me by the reading throat at the moment and I'm soaking up so much that I should have known but didn't, or thought I knew but obviously didn't either. St Pancras Station is waiting patiently but The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme by Gavin Stamp has won the day. I started and was quickly fifty pages in. This series is just so eminently readable and each book full of new perceptions, this single observation alone has left me stunned,
'if all the men of the British Empire who were killed between 1914 and 1918 were to have marched together in rows of four to the Cenotaph, when the front of the column arrived in Whitehall its tail would still be at Durham.'
For anyone who hasn't marched that recently, it's a distance of 230 miles.The facts still have the power to shock and so they should.
Likewise The Forbidden Zone : A Nurse's Impression of the First World War by Mary Borden, one of the little Hesperus packages, is proving to be a flawless gem of a book, a beautifully written account of horrific tragedy. Chicago-born Mary Borden ran a field hospital just behind the front lines of the Somme and has that gift for conveying what she must in the most evocative yet spare style,
'Mud: and a thin rain coming down to make more mud.
Mud: with scraps of iron lying in it and the straggling fragment of a nation, lolling, hanging about in the mud on the edge of disaster...No there's no frontier, just a bleeding edge, trenches. That's where the enemy took his last bite, fastened his iron teeth, and stuffed to bursting, stopped devouring Belgium, left this strip, these useless fields, these crumpled dwellings.'
Voices breathing fresh reality into seemingly known subjects, brilliantly moving, the non-fiction quest continues and in the run-up to Remembrance Day let's have a prize draw because we haven't had one in ages. Names in comments (we'll post worldwide) for a prize draw signed copy of Bugle Boy by that inestimable and very lovely 83 year-old dad of mine, Len Chester.