The book I’d like to introduce you to in this post is the true account of Harry Lamin, a young man from Yorkshire who served in the Great War with the York and Lancaster Regiment and later the Royal Munster Fusiliers. The reviews this book is getting on the usual book rating communities are mixed. This is due to the fact that as opposed to most war stories it’s not a tale of shining heroes and acts of bravery in the face of the enemy but simply a tale of an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, doing his duty for his country. It’s presented in the form of letters written by Harry Lamin to various members of his family back home, annotated and edited by his grandson, Bill. It is not particularly gripping entertainment due to the fact that the letters are really very similar and you do get tired of the seemingly endless repetitions of what Harry did during his time at the front and the ever-present ‘could you send some paper/clean shirts/socks etc.’ requests to his relatives. But it is this drabness and monotony that makes the book so realistic because repetition and boredom were basically the main parts of life at the front for the lower ranks, interspersed with stints of fighting that brought a bit of action and escape from homesickness. Harry also very stoically described the long marches or train journeys to new locations in both France and Italy and he never failed to send his family postcards of the different regions he was stationed at and to describe the most prominent features of the landscape and the people he encountered there.
Harry saw action in the Battle of the Messines Ridge and the Battle of Passchendaele, he was wounded in the latter and sent home to recuperate, and after the war had ended he transferred to the Royal Munster Fusiliers in Italy and had to bide his time there until he was finally demobbed in 1920. What was especially remarkable to me is how long and incredibly tedious it must have been for the lower ranking soldiers to wait out the time after the war had ended until they could finally go home. Harry worked as a cook for the officers of his regiment to make some money and he repeatedly mentions in his letters that it probably won’t be long now until they have it all sorted to have the remaining soldiers sent home but in the end it’s almost a year and a half he has to wait before he can return to England. Somehow I had always imagined that as soon as the war was over they would just pack up and put all the soldiers on trains and ships and have them sent home but it wasn’t like that at all. Of course it was a huge challenge the people in charge were facing, logistically, to get thousands of soldiers back home from the various locations, that had to take a certain length of time, and once you were discharged from the army there was no-one who would provide for you, so many chose to stay on even after the armistice just to have a secure source of income, just as Harry did.
Luckily Harry wasn’t too traumatized from his time in the war so when he finally did get home he led a relatively ordinary and uneventful life and the book includes photographs of him as an old(er) man surrounded by his family. His grandson Bill found the letters years later in a drawer and decided to publish them, first as a blog and later in the form of a book. I urge you to persevere with this seemingly dull book if you’re interested to know what real life was like for the ordinary soldiers of the Great War. You won’t regret it and maybe you’ll even learn something new, like I did.