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Eric Hiscock - Bells of Hell go Ting-a Ling-a Ling


bierlijn
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I've been reading a series of diaries and memoires of soldiers who served in the Great War. Now I've come to this Eric Hiscock book, and it stands out as incredible. In the sense that it seems to me to be almost complete fantasy.

The tenor of this tale is a pastiche of The Virgin Soldiers, and perhaps that is what it's intended to be. The author probably wrote this in the 1970s, when he was in his 70's, and was a retired Fleet Street journalist and comes across as such. He seems to have two things to get off his chest: that he was court martialled for a self-inflicted wound shortly after arrival in Belgium in 1918, and that he is intensely preoccupied and interested in homosexuality while repeatedly affirming that he was mainly hetrosexual.

The book is full of preposterous, boastful stories and WW1 cliches, while the author has little grasp of the terminology of the war common to all other memoirs, and is evasive about where he actually was at most given times. I think he is an unreliable witness, but I have seen passages from this book quoted on a display in the IFF museum and by reputable authors, and here on the forum, mentioned as one of members top five war books.

Would anyone who's read this and thinks I'm wrong care to debate this with me?

Hiscock can remember being in only three front line locations, Kemmel Hill, Bellevue "slip trench" at Passchendaele, and "Starcross Corner", Ypres. Can anyone place these, particularly the last one?

Hugh

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For those who don't have this book, here is an example of the prose I'm talking about. The whole account is so bizarre and cliched that it seems invented. All soldier memoirs and diaries describe coming under fire, but never in these terms. "Minnie coming over, pass it on"? From the text that follows, the author seems to have little idea how long a 'minnie' is going to hang in the air.

For new readers, the author has referred over and again to Lieutenant Clarke, who is described as a rampant and predatory homosexual, and who earlier reported the author for a self-inflicted wound. Now read on....

post-19252-1254149570.jpg

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Hugh, I read this book 25 or 30 years ago, and I remember not being very impressed then. I was looking at it the other day and thinking I should re-read it: maybe I will now.

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I also read it a number of years ago and found it to be somewhat removed from reality.

I had a quick scan through it again after reading your first post. From the various reports I have read, I would think that this was either 'fiction' or the ramblings of an old man.

I have never treated it as anything but a 'good laugh' and not to be taken seriously.

I would be most surprised to find that by October 1915 a 15 year old could have enlisted and got away with it but would happily be proved wrong.

The fact that he does not use 'real' names all of the time has always concerned me as that makes it impossible to prove the truth or not of the book. It was published in 1976 when having a go at all things military was very much the thing to do.

Steve M

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Possibly his enlistment aged 15 in 1915 did take place, as he is passed from training battalion to training battalion, and was only sent to France in March 1918, aged 17 and a half. Although he doesn't half harp on about being underage.

My concern is that, while the book is mainly like a rambling fantasy letter from a randy old duffer to the Readers Letters pages of a 1970's Men Only magazine, if taken seriously, it can be be seriously misleading.

The author claims to have been on a raid in which all the participants received gallantry medals, and the privates were all promoted to Lance Corporals and offered a Military Medal or 100 francs. I've seen this quoted as an example of the British Army offering cash alternatives to gallantry medals. A road made up of unopened Fray Bentos cans? Quoted in a display at Hedge Row Cemetery. Soldiers fishing for rats by casting some meat on a hooked wire into Nomansland? "Sure enough, a huge animal was on the end of it, the hook through its lower jaw." Being let off a self inflicted wound charge by a Court Martial because the court accepted his story (in spite of admitting that he shot himself in the upper arm with his own rifle) that he was only reported for the offense because the officer in charge wanted him out of the way so that the officer could *ugger his friend? Whaaa?

Hiscock the author is totally sex obsessed so the material here is quite unlike any other WW1 memoir, making it ideal to give colour to books like 'Tommy' by Richard Holmes. But while the author apparently remembers every detail of his sexual experiments, he remembers not much of the detail of army life or his own service, and that should make alarm bells go ting-a ling.

Hugh

* To my surprise, the board software automatically censored this word beginning with 'B'. Thank goodness our sensitivities are protected. Whoever wrote the software definitely shouldn't read the Hiscoc* book.

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Couldn't resist doing a little digging - according to the National Library of Australia Eric C Hiscock was born in 1908, so it obviously can't be autobiographical, whatever else it is. He also seems to have written a number of books on sailing. I've not read anything by him, so I really can't comment further.

Dave Swarbrick

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He's described on the book flap as a freelance writer. It's hard to imagine what more he had to add about "Lieutenant Clarke", but the author self references to another book he wrote "Last Boat to Folly Bridge" where he "touches on more" concerning this "thwarted homosexual". No references to his sailing books, though I'd imagine the author saving the kids from drowning, who'd been pushed in the river by gays.

Did you know, by the way, that an officer or NCO is quite within his rights to shoot dead anyone found sleeping on sentry duty? p.7. or sleeping during Stand To, p.35?

I think the 1908 date might be wrong, as I get the sense that this chap did serve, albeit briefly and ingloriously. There's an obsession about self inflicted wounds - his own and Court Martial, his ponderings on putting his foot under a tank track, and then his meeting with a runner who had apparently shot himself in the wrist - "I could report him if we ever got to a casualty clearing station...". Amongst the cliche and sexual fantasy, it seems like he had something on his conscience.

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THE QUESTION HAS BEEN ANSWERED IN THE POST BELOW - I"VE LEFT THIS IN THOUGH IN CASE THIS "MISTAKEN IDENTITY" COMES UP AGAIN

If this Eric Hiscock was the same man as the sailor who wrote many books about sailing and his voyages in later life - most references seem to point to the 1908 birth date being correct - though if he used journalistic licence in his books- maybe he did with his life as well??

If the author and the sailor were one and the same - it seems generally accepted that the sailor died on board his yacht Wanderer V in Whangarei, New Zealand (15/9/1986) and the NZ death record for Eric Charles Hiscock in 1986 has a date of birth 14 March 1908. This ties in with a birth registration in the South Stoneham district (Hampshire) in the Apr/May/Jun qtr of 1908

The only MIC on NA and Ancestry for an Eric Hiscock is

Medal card of Hiscock, Eric A S

Corps Regiment No Rank

Training Reserve Battalion 8/8615

Wiltshire Regiment 27087 Private

Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry 47972 Private

I don't see one with just initials that could be Eric C Hiscock

Eric C Hiscock - married Susan O Sclater in 1941 - her obit from The Independent in 1995 - http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/o...ck-1589058.html - says this about his WW2 service

"When war broke out in 1939, he joined the Navy, serving as a Chief Petty Officer on anti-submarine patrols, but he was invalided out soon after their marriage in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, in 1941. "Why! You're half blind, man," he was told, despite his two years' satisfactory service at sea."

I'm sure his date of death is after the Times Online coverage finished - but will see if there's anything else - perhaps we have to establish conclusively if the author of this book and the sailor/author are one and the same - or a different person altogether

Cheers

Sue

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Right - ignore everything I said above (unless you're interested in the sailor!!)

The good old Gridiron online came to the rescue - the author of this book was Ernest Frederick (Eric) Hiscock - it has him born September 1900 died January 28th 1989 - and mentions him as one of the youngest veterans of the First World War - their site specifically says further reproduction without permission prohibited so I'd better not post it here

There is a MIC for an Ernest F Hiscock (Pte) Royal Fusiliers GS/59333 Victory and British medals only

Only birth record though is Oct/Nov/Dec 1899 (rather than 1900) in Oxford and his death record also shows 1899 for date of birth - 10th September

Cheers

Sue

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From the passage above, I doubt a Verey Light would illuminate a Minenwerfer in flight during night-time. Not only that, this particular Minenwerfer seems to defy the physics of flight in terms of duration. Not only that, I don't think even the largest Minenwerfer shells dug a hole big enough to fit a bus into (and how did it even explode in a sea of slime?). Not only that, but at least 50 machine-guns were firing a barrage at Star-cross Corner - how did the experts work that out? That sounds like the machine-guns of an entire German division were firing on a single point and I doubt anyone would survive in a beaten zone that beaten.

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at least 50 machine-guns were firing a barrage at Star-cross Corner - how did the experts work that out? That sounds like the machine-guns of an entire German division were firing on a single point and I doubt anyone would survive in a beaten zone that beaten.

Yes. it also struck me as odd was that during this machine gun barrage of death, the hated Lieutenant Clarke walks up behind our hero as if he hasn't noticed anything going on.

I've just noticed that the revolting letcherous "pale, spotted with acne face, with its red rimmed eyes under a head of mouse-coloured hair, was certainly no hero's visage" (p.59) Lieutenant Clarke apparently was awarded the Military Cross (p.35 - all the officers involved were awarded...) in a raid (The leader of the raid was to be Lieutenant Clarke... p.29).

Therefore, although the names of the soldiers in the book have been changed (in so far as none of the soldiers the author gleefully mentions as dying exist in the casualty records), it should be possible to identify "Lieutenant Clarke", as he has an MC awarded March-April 1918, and was in C Company, 26th Royal Fusiliers, 41st Division. He was killed in an attack on 14th September 1918 according to the author (p.92,p.93)

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Sue, you have nailed down who the author is, because he does give his soldier number as 59333 (p.14). However, if he was indeed born in 1899, he was 18 and a half when he went to war, and whole thrust of the book, the terrible experiences of an underage soldier, falls apart.

I'm still wondering if the author is hiding something, and after being in trenches at Kemmel, the next thing he can remember is September 14th, when he says he was wounded in a big offensive and his war ended.

(p.85) "The next night we filed out of the trenches for the last time. Rumour had it that we were going out for special training. We were to be trained in open warfare and for once the rumour was right. The end... was in sight. So was mine. It was to come in eighty -eight days time."

p.91 "one thing I am certain about is that on the morning of September 14th, all hell broke loose". (This is the day he is wounded and invalided out).

Therefore, 88 days previous to this was 19th June. Was 41st Division and 26th RF really "in training for open warfare" for 88 days? Between pages 88 and 91, the author offers a training anecdote and goes on manoeuvres with "Suzy" ("Her tongue, an exploratory, urgent thing, was half way down my throat").

But after all those 88 days training for an attack, the author says (p.91) "Personally, I hadn't the vaguest notion where we were or what we were about to do."

I know the private soldiers legendarily had little knowledge of the bigger picture of the war, but this is surely a world record for disorientation. I haven't got the Official History for this period, but I bet 41st Division wasn't out of the line for so long.

Hugh

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