The author of this compelling collection had some medals, belonging to eight unsung soldiers who fought in World War I, that most horrific of conflicts. He resolved to find out more about each man, and this book is the result.
The stories track not only the research efforts that Kilvert made in seeking out his soldiers and their families, but the lives, generally short, of the men who went to war. They were Englishmen, young, riding an idealistic tide. Indeed, the author points out that as quickly as men fell in their droves, the newspapers were putting out ads to attract more to the front, promising “pleasant conditions.”
Even officers were not impervious either to the seduction of war or its bloody result. One of the young men featured in the book, the son of Sir Ralph and Lady Payne-Gallwey, died in action without witnesses, and the family lived on the slim hope that he might have been taken prisoner. “Theirs would be a lonely vigil,” and after the deaths of several of the lad’s young cousins, Lady Payne-Gallwey “willfully destroyed all photographs of her son,” and became a “sad, retiring figure.”
It is easy to imagine the First World War as the worst of all wars, the last of the old way of fighting – sending hundreds of men as fodder into the breach: “…men lived with incessant foul odors that hung over the battlefields and rose from unburied bodies of men and animals, while the stench of cordite, rotting food, poison gas and sweat combined to increase everyone’s misery.”
It was also the war in which, arguably, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder began to be a recognizable legacy. Consider this poignant account: “His mind forever haunted by the horror of pounding artillery barrages, gas attacks and hideous sights on the battlefield, John Willie was eventually committed to Middlewood Hospital in Sheffield where he died in 1972 at the age of 83.”
This book, a work of merit, was published by Authorhouse, an independent print-on-demand company. Had the choice been mine, I would have placed the photographs for each section at the beginning rather than the end of the segment, because, without any page to divide the segments it appears as though the photographs refer to people in the upcoming chapter rather than the previous one. I would not have opted for a print and spacing style that so nearly mirrors a manuscript submission. Perhaps in further endeavors, Mr Kilvert, whose research and writing style are praiseworthy, will find a better publisher.