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Tag Archives: First World War

A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr

A damaged survivor of the First World War, Tom Birkin finds refuge in the quiet village church of Oxgodby where he is to spend the summer uncovering a huge medieval wall-painting. Immersed in the peace and beauty of the countryside and the unchanging rhythms of village life he experiences a sense of renewal and belief in the future. Now an old man, Birkin looks back on the idyllic summer of 1920, remembering a vanished place of blissful calm, untouched by change, a precious moment he has carried with him through the disappointments of the years.

It’s been an utter pleasure rereading this splendid short book, heading back to 1920’s Oxgodby and its five hundred year old church painting. Reacquainting myself with the inhabitants, and a way of life lost to time reminded me of Carr’s evocative prose and the beauty of the English countryside.

This is a great story to get lost in – one which demands repeat readings be savoured – it really accentuates the little things in life, those wondrous things that surround us, yet seem hidden in plain sight until viewed in hindsight. There is a comforting sense of isolation here, a total delight to be immersed in.

The plot revolves around the methodical and gradual uncovering of a medieval wall painting and this also extends to the personalities of the  people.  As time moves on there is a slow exposing of both, as well as the social life of the village.  All this is played out in such a relaxed manner that the under the surface busyness is very subtly played out.

Birkin’s love for mechanisms and how the parts slot together are a fitting metaphor for how he sees the community and also in a literal sense of the time. There is a feeling of being on the cusp of changes in his life, in the rhythms of countryside and nature and how the industrial age is really starting to impact the isolated countryside.  It’s pleasurably melancholy and allows readers of any age to feel the loss of what once was. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on 05/03/2018 in Fiction

 

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Their Duty Done: Forest Town and the Great War – Tim Priestley

wp_20161122_001Forest Town in Nottinghamshire would send many of its men to war.  This is the story of those who never returned and whose names are inscribed on the local memorial.

From every city to the smallest of villages around Britain, every traveller will always come across a war memorial dedicated – most often – to those fallen in World War One and World War Two.

All too often one finds themself looking at the names of these people and imagining those times and of the utter devastation of the population and the trauma suffered both at the front and of those waiting back home to hear news; yet waiting in dread as each letter may be an official notification of death.

Their Duty Done, reminds us that each name on the memorial stones and the graveyards spread around the world belonged to real people, with families, jobs and a sense of duty.

Whether you are familiar with my neck of the woods or not, Forest Town and its surrounding area is a typical example of any town you care to pick from, all of which saw many men go to war. FT has the distinction of being a mining town which perhaps aided (for those in that occupation) with the speed of demobilisation and arguably saved many from the early stages of the war, if they chose not to volunteer.

The first half of the book gives a brief overview of each year of the war and chronicles those who died, giving details of their ages, rank and date of death.  There is also a write-up about each soldier, from their birthplace , parent’s names, job, army history and the details of their demise and resting places, where the bodies could be recovered.

It brings home the fact that each person was real, it seems obvious, of course  but with all the literature, films and so on, it is easy to be fixated on the final body count of various battles and the war in total.  In essence we have become desensitised to the human side of war, in the face of the sheer scale of carnage. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 24/11/2016 in History, Life

 

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The Fires of Autumn – Irène Némirovsky

WarmAutumnParis 1918, Bernard Jacquelain returns from the trenches a changed man.

The city is a whirl of decadence and corruption and he embarks on a life of parties and shady business dealings, as well as an illicit affair.

But as another war threatens, everything around him starts to crumble and the future for him and for France suddenly looks dangerously uncertain.

Irène Némirovsky has long been a favourite author of mine and is definitely one of the best 20th century authors, sadly still criminally under recognised by readers out there.  Her ability to clearly convey human nature is incisive and dramatic but most of all beautifully accomplished.

The first chapter contains a wonderful Champs-Élysées family scene, which was perfectly executed and was made all the more poignant knowing the events that history is rushing inexorably toward.  I would have been happy to stay in that place and just wish these people well but sadly that is not life.

Perhaps they have now gone too far to step back and feel we’re on the brink of an abyss?  But what is certain is that it will be the young men who are first to fall into that abyss.

It’s a hard book to read knowing what will befall nations and tear apart of families.  The problem with Némirovsky’s characters – which goes for all her books – is that they are so well realised and penned that it becomes hard to see them suffer on their journeys.  Even the characters one dislikes demand a certain sympathy as their flaws are something we can all relate to as much as their fears and expectations. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 27/11/2015 in Fiction

 

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The Last Post

Notts! 026Sometimes an overabundance of words doesn’t make the point as well as the visuals do.  We have all read and heard enough on the subject so I can forego the usual preamble and much of the commentary.  Here are a selection of photos taken from Nottingham Castle Museum that speak for themselves.

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Notts! 055 Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 11/11/2014 in History, Travel

 

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Trent to Trenches

Notts! 100Retreating away from the hustle and bustle of life, I found myself, one Thursday last in the oldest Inn in England, which is built into the rock face on top of which the castle wall is built.

Literally surrounded and encased in history with an ominous yet apt tolling of a bell somewhere distant, I proceeded to order my thoughts on the day so far with a pint of Hobgoblin.

I had just been to the Trent to Trenches exhibition at the Nottingham Castle museum, which focused on the Great War.  Most notably the locals who lived through it and the soldiers that left the banks of the River Trent and surrounding areas to fight.

Due to time constraints and having plenty of other things to do (see previous post), I did rush around what was a wonderful museum, in which an enthusiastic member of staff pointed out the best place to start.   so began my journey around old Nottingham then onto Greek vases, clothing through the ages and finally to World War I exhibit that I knew would be the most interesting.

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Somebody’s memories, this is real history at its most poignant.

I did get lost a bit and at one point stepped aside to let somebody pass who also stepped aside and then as I made to go through the doorway did the same, it turned out on closer inspection to be a mirror, why it was there I have no idea but it did remind me to be a bit more observant. Onto the point of the post though, I wanted to focus on the more intimate things as everybody knows what medals and uniforms look like.  I believe what the museum was trying to do was to capture the personal events as well as seismic ones that are well documented.  In this respect they have done an excellent job. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19/10/2014 in History, Travel

 

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