The sound of the bugle

I haven’t posted a blog for ages, despite having lots of material to draw upon but other stuff has got in the way.  As it’s my birthday today I thought I would blow my own trumpet.

Yes, I know the photo is a bugle!  But that seems more appropriate and in any case the Cambridge dictionary describes a bugle as: a musical instrument like a simple trumpet, used especially in the army.  This bugle is part of a collection to which I have access and is engraved as follows: 2nd/5th Princess Louise’s Kensington Battalion London Regiment. Presented by Captain Godfrey W. Collier, September 1915.

So, blowing my own trumpet is a collection of screen shots at the end of this blog of feedback I have received about Frank Speaking. I have also posted the link to Chris Baker’s review on his website The Long, Long Trail. In addition is Peter Hart’s review, copied and pasted below from his email to me.  Peter, of course, has written critically acclaimed books on the First World War and, until retirement, was oral historian at Imperial War Museum.

Peter Hart’s review:

Frank Speaking: From Suvla to Schweidnitz

Carole Hope, H & K Publishing, 2021 

Obtain from: Carole.s.hope@btinternet.com

More and more people are unwilling to entrust their life’s work to the grubby hands of small publishers. Randomly imposed restrictions on space, skimping on supporting photos and maps, combined with the perils of intrusive – or even worse – non-existent editing, means the ‘end product’ often does not match the author’s initial ‘vision’. Add to this a sales policy of simultaneous publication and remaindering to cut-price book outlets, and it makes it impossible for the author to make any money – or indeed to recoup their costs. As a result, many are turning to self-publishing in the best sense of the word i.e., far away from the dreadful tosh of vanity publishing – establishing a ‘firm’ to publish their work, controlling the product from top to bottom, printing a realistic number,  and then marketing themselves at a realistic price. Carole Hope is the latest to follow this trail for her second book ‘Frank Speaking’ on the wartime career of Frank Laird.  

The book is based on a very rare book of recollections by Frank Laird, Personal Experiences of the Great War (An Unfinished Manuscript) published shortly after his death in 1925.

We are introduced to Frank Laird, look at his early background, before his recruitment into D Company, 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Then we follow them through their training in Ireland and then the exotic sun-drenched fields of Basingstoke, before they board the Alaunia for the long voyage out to Mytilene. Then the excitement begins as they land at Suvla Bay on the 7 August 1915. The editor’s notes are helpful, not only in explaining the background and introducing the various characters that are name-checked, but also in providing quotes from the rather wonderful Henry Hanna, whose book – which also focussed on D Company – The Pals at Suvla Bay – is excruciatingly rare in its first edition. Other material from the History of the 10th (Irish) Division history further helps the story flow and explains the bigger picture. 

Laird doesn’t last long at Suvla before he is wounded and evacuated back to Lemnos and then aboard the Cawdor Castle to the UK, ending up in hospital in Birmingham. Then he is sent to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Depot at Naas in Ireland. Here he was on light duties to recover his health and fitness. He was even sent out as a member of a staggeringly ineffective recruitment party in Wicklow and Kildare.  Laird was then posted as a barrack policeman with the 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers at the Royal Barracks – just in time for the Irish rebellion of April 1916. He was fortunate enough to avoid any of the serious fighting, being largely confined to a local barracks and looking on with amazement. He applied for a commission in the Army Service Corps but was only offered the ‘Poor Bloody Infantry’ and in July 1916 was posted for training to the Officers Cadet Battalion at the Curragh. 

In January 1917, he was despatched to the Western Front where he would serve with the 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Here he fitted well, and his account is augmented by the letters of the padre, Father Willie Doyle whose career had been well-documented by Carole Hope in her first book,  Worshipper and Worshipped: Across the Divide: an Irish Padre of the Great War. Fr. Willie Doyle Chaplain to the Forces 1915-1917. We get a nice, detailed picture of life in and out of the line, shot through with humour. Then there is a gap in Laird’s original manuscript which Hope has drawn on various sources to fill, revealing that Laird was once again badly wounded, this time hit in the head by shrapnel during a German barrage around 10 August 1917 at Ypres. 

After hospitalisation and recuperation, Laird is again passed fit and posted to the 20th Entrenching Battalion in February 1918. During the German Spring Offensive in the Somme area, he is ordered forward with a draft of men to join the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the line. In an impromptu counter-attack launched on 27 March, he is again badly wounded in the left side – and this time taken prisoner.  I found the account of his POW life fascinating, as he moved from camp to camp, gradually improving in health. Like so many, he rejoiced once the food parcels caught up with them. He would only return home in December 1918. The final section follows his final years, culminating in his tragically early death in 1925. Detailed appendixes pick up on various aspects thrown up in the book. 

In all Frank Laird was wounded three times, endured the heat and flies of Gallipoli, the mud and blood of the Western Front, and nine months as a POW –  quite a lot for any young chap to suffer never mind one in his mid-thirties.  Laird comes across as a likeable chap, considerably older – and more mature – than most, but possessed of a wry sense of humour which makes his account an easy read. Very much recommended. 

Peter Hart

A shout out, also to the designer of the dust jacket and inside designs – Lyndsay Knight. She did a fab job.

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