Harry’s War: A British Tommy’s Experiences in the Trenches in World War One, by Harry Stinton ****

harryswar Harry’s War is a journal that was kept by a British soldier during World War I. It is remarkable not because it is eloquent or poetic in any way, but because it is complete (regarding his own experience) and because he is capable in his explanations. The illustrations are particularly interesting, well done and useful to the reader, breaking up what might otherwise become dull text in places. He also mentions small but singular experiences that break up a sometimes-monotonous march.

Harry is chosen to toss bombs because of his excellent throwing arm. This talent gets him out of some of the unpleasant detail such as night watch duty, but it is also a position even more fraught with danger than what others experienced. He lasts nearly two and a half years before being wounded and sent home. Part of the time he serves is in the less dangerous capacity of “batman”, which was a term that designated the personal assistant of an officer, and it’s possible this accounts for some of the time he stayed out of harm’s way. In particular, he is able to view the battle at the Somme where some 60,000 casualties occurred as an onlooker rather than as a participant; in some ways, this makes his account more useful, because he saw a wider swath of the action. Most of the time, though, he is doing what a soldier does.

I was particularly bemused by the change in his perspective as his tenure became more intense. Before seeing battle, he complains about things like not having privacy for his bath, and being expected to sleep in a “dirty barn” instead of a house. Later he considers himself fortunate when he gets into a nice dry trench, especially when there are no rats or lice about. He becomes increasingly more stoic and toward the end when he says a thing is “unbearable”, you know it really is.

Harry marches across France and through Belgium, and he also encounters soldiers from Canada, Scotland, and Australia. It’s quite an education for him, and he relays it well to the reader, though it is unlikely he ever expected such a wide readership.

As is so often the case when reading military history, you really don’t want this on an e-reader. Get the book so you can see the illustrations. They are frequent and lend much to the reader’s understanding of the text.

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