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stu

Sapper Martin, The secret diaries

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stu

I was given this book the other day and, I have to say that this latest effort by Richard Van Emden is a very good read and a refreshing change from other accounts I have read.

It details the life of an ordinary sapper who was present on the Somme, at Messines and 3rd Ypres and who later went to Italy, it shows that these men had their fair share of danger, frequently being under intense fire as well as the normal routine of an R.E. signaler.

It is written in a nice easy style that flows well and I thoroughly recommend it.

Would make a good Christmas present.

Has anyone else read it ?

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Simon_Fielding

I've really enjoyed this too. Great writing style by a well-educated man. Very revealing on life just behind the front line. I liked the account of the fighting in Italy. Well worth a look.

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squirrel

Excellent read. The diary of an educated man with a well developed sense of humour and a descriptive but economical writing style.

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swizz

This book is amongst my Christmas presents so I am really looking forward to it now!

Swizz

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squirrel

You won't be disappointed!

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swizz

Excellent! :)

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J Banning
I was given this book the other day and, I have to say that this latest effort by Richard Van Emden is a very good read and a refreshing change from other accounts I have read.

Has anyone else read it ?

Am yet to read the whole diary Stu, but I know that Sapper Martin’s writing is excellent. I look forward to reading it soon – just have a few that are on my ‘must read’ pile before I get on to Sapper Martin’s diary. I am glad that it is being well received.

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rob elliott

Swizz,

Not sure if you are aware but a number of men from the 36th Ulster Division RE signal company were seconded to serve in Italy.

I have the names of some of them, with a poor quality photo.

There was an officer named Dealey went as well.

What unit did Albert Martin serve with?

Rob

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stu
Am yet to read the whole diary Stu, but I know that Sapper Martin’s writing is excellent. I look forward to reading it soon – just have a few that are on my ‘must read’ pile before I get on to Sapper Martin’s diary. I am glad that it is being well received.

Hi Jeremy,

You really should read the entire book, you won't be disappointed, but I do know what you mean about the 'must read' pile, I'm the same, I seem to acquire books faster than I can read them.

I see in the acknowledgements that it was you that originally brought the diaries to the attention of Richard Van Emden, and that the book is dedicated to you, did you help to research the material ?

Stuart

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stu
Swizz,

Not sure if you are aware but a number of men from the 36th Ulster Division RE signal company were seconded to serve in Italy.

I have the names of some of them, with a poor quality photo.

There was an officer named Dealey went as well.

What unit did Albert Martin serve with?

Rob

Hi Rob,

Albert Martin served with the 122nd Brigade Signal Company, part of the 41st Division.

Hope this helps.

Stuart

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J Banning
I see in the acknowledgements that it was you that originally brought the diaries to the attention of Richard Van Emden, and that the book is dedicated to you, did you help to research the material?

Well spotted Stu! It’s a nice touch from Richard but all I did was alert him to the diaries as I had them in my collection – he used a few extracts in ‘The Soldier’s War’ on my recommendation and then I put him in touch with Albert (Jack) Martin’s relatives. It was actually Peter Barton that spotted the importance and quality of Sapper Martin’s diary (obviously the RE connection was something he found of huge interest). Peter had previously used extracts in The Battlefields of The First World War and we used them again in Passchendaele. His Messines & Menin Road Ridge material (20 Sept) are quite superb.

I am looking forward to reading some of the 'new' parts that, so far, I am yet to look at.

Cheers

Jeremy

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Simon_Fielding

My proper review:

As the Great War marches out of living memory, it’s almost a cliché to say that there has been a steady increase in interest in the experience of the passing generation, and a steady barrage of newly transcribed diaries, memoirs, and collections of letters.

The interest of these books often rests on the nature of the author’s service, the theatre of war they served in, their rank and the nature of their service, not to mention their skill as a writer.

Sapper Jack Martin’s Diary, ably edited by Richard van Emden, was presumably written in secret (diary keeping was banned at the front) or with the tacit approval of Martin’s superiors. It is an outstanding example of an enlisted man’s war: Martin’s skill as a writer makes this an invaluable addition to the genre.

Martin served in the Royal Engineers, a volunteer from a stern no-conformist background. He served in the Brigade signals of the 122nd Infantry brigade, part of the 41st Division. (His brigade included the 12th East Surreys, 15th Hampshire’s, 11th Royal West Kents, and the 18th Kings Royal Rifle Corps – research into these battalions will find this book of particular interest). The Division was deployed in France in May 1916, served o the Somme (where Martin’s diary begins in September 1916); in the battle of Messines in summer 1917 and on the Flanders coast. In November 1918 they were sent to Italy to stem the Austro-Hungarian advance and Martin’s description of Italy is especially striking. They returned to the Western front in February 1918, enduring the hammer blows of the German Spring Offensive, and after the Hundred Day’s advance, finishing the war in occupation duties in Cologne.

Martin has a perceptive and sensitive insight into his condition, and as well as his philosophical insights, his war centres on food, sleep, and companionship, enduring shelling and generally weathering life just behind the front line. Of particular interest are his views of the war, and his anger at ‘shirkers’ as home having a cushy war. It is also interesting to read of the relationship of a well-educated soldier with his officers – Martin’s interaction with Lieutenant Buchanan is especially striking.

There is no index, which is a pity – don’t miss Martin’s account of being sent Sassoon’s ‘Counter-attack’ by his fiancé on pages 235-6.

It’s worth remembering that these are transcribed diaries, written up by Martin in the 1920s. They are an invaluable part of a Great War library, and especially valuable to the history of the neglected 41st Division.

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stephen p nunn
This book is amongst my Christmas presents so I am really looking forward to it now!

Swizz

Mine too Swizz (amongst others recommended by pals on the GWF).

Best regards and Happy Christmas.

SPN

Maldon

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swizz

I've got round to starting this book now and I wanted to say that I'm really enjoying it. As others have said here, it flows very well and is an easy (and interesting) read. I've found it particularly interesting to find out a bit more about what someone in signals actually did on a day to day basis. I was also interested in the section on the Italian Front, which I have just finished. I would very much recommend this book!

Swizz

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stephen p nunn
I've got round to starting this book now and I wanted to say that I'm really enjoying it. As others have said here, it flows very well and is an easy (and interesting) read. I've found it particularly interesting to find out a bit more about what someone in signals actually did on a day to day basis. I was also interested in the section on the Italian Front, which I have just finished. I would very much recommend this book!

Swizz

Don't tell me what happens in the end!

SPN

Maldon

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rendellers

Really good read and agree with all the comments above. Very interesting to read another perspective. This book really emphasised the amount of to-ing and fro-ing the ordinary soldier had to endure. I realised as the book progressed that Martin makes frequent, although general, references to artillery which I found interesting as my grandfather was with the RFA.

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Forton

Just had an amazing email. Sapper Martin's missing medals have just turned up on ebay and were sold to a private collector. He has very kindly got in touch with me and I have got in touch with the family to let them know. Not strictly book reviews I know, but it seemed the best place to put it in the circumstances.

Richard

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truthergw

This is not my usual territory but after such good reviews I had a look at Amazon. I found the book available for the kindle. Great. Saved a few coppers but more important, a space on my shelf. I have a short stay in dock coming up, this will do me lovely to pass the time.

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kevin donaldson

Very good book to read, could not put it down, and i would highly recommend it.

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IanA

Amazon (actually, some associated sellers) have copies of the paperback for sale (new) at 1p. Yes, I thought it was too good to be true, but the seller had a five star rating and I paid through Amazon so thought I might give it a whirl. My copy (pristine) arrived today. Postage is the standard £2.80.

Order your copy through the forum link as GWF will get a percentage of that 1p. :w00t:

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mandy hall

It is one of my favourite pastimes browsing Amazon looking for 1p books. I have just been through the bibliography for Six Weeks The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War by John Lewis Stempel and have a few books on their way to me (3 arrived yesterday).

Mandy

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Roger H

I have just finished this book. I can do no better than echo Simon's comments at post #12. An excellent read.

Roger

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WhiteStarLine

Good to see this old thread continuing. I bought this book a year ago and I see that Martin's recollections are frequently quoted as a primary source on the GWF. It is a well written account and an insight into operating signals on the Western Front. His unit's journey into Italy, with a 240 km route march over hilly terrain in hob nail boots with poor rations, sticks in your mind. Richard van Emden's commentary ties the narrative together and is never intrusive. An excellent read.

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Simon_Fielding

Thank you for your comments Roger. Great to hear more responses to a fascinating book.

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Mac657

As an ex-sapper i read the book many years ago and found it very interesting in it's own right. Since then i have found out that my great-granfather served in the same unit (41st Division Signals company RE) , so i read it again, in a very different light. My g-grandfathers medals are long gone but i managed to recently purchase a set belonging to a fellow Sapper (58097 William Grover) from the same company, the next best thing. This week Ancestry released some war diaries and the company's are on there, which have made fascinating reading as they are extremely detailed. Even as signallers they were right in the thick of it.

I might have to read that book again !

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