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Simon_Fielding

Retreat from Death - George Herbert Hill

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Simon_Fielding

Anyone read this or have any details on the author and his unit?? Seems there's a 2005 edition with a Richard Holmes introduction, and this is all the publishers have on the author:

George Herbert Hill was born in Ireland in 1898. Following the year he spent in France during the Great War he became a reporter at the Belfast Telegraph. After the publication of Retreat from Death he worked successively with the scriptwriter Alexander Korda and film producer Brian Desmond Hurst. In 1939 he returned to the Belfast Telegraph as a war correspondent and after the war joined the Daily Mail until his retirement. He died in 1969.

"I was alone in a world gone mad. Death was all around...Useless, filthy death." At 2 o'clock on the morning of 21 March 1918, the Battle of St Quentin began. The German assault, consisting of trench mortars, mustard gas, chlorine gas, tear gas and a heavy artillery bombardment, was said to be one of the most fierce and devastating of the Great War. Over the course of 6 days, thousands of British troops lost their lives and yet this would prove to be the turning point of the war - the end was in sight. George Hill was just sixteen when he enlisted into the army, eager to fight for his country and full of pride for the role he would play. After only a few weeks in France, he was in the midst of St Quentin and the full horrors of trench warfare. Incredibly, he survived - one of the few members of his battalion to do so. After several months at the front, he was gassed and spent the last days of the war in a field hospital. Hill turned 19 on the day of the armistice. "Retreat from Death" is the harrowing story based on his experiences.

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Martin Bennitt

I read it earlier this year. Can recommend. Sorry can't remember the unit but almost sure it was an Irish regiment. I got the book out of the library, where I will be again on Wednesday. Will check for more details then

cheers Martin B

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Simon_Fielding

Thanks Martin - I was wondering if there was any more bio on him. He seems to have been 1/RIR...

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Martin Bennitt

Bit more on Hill:

He was a clerk in Belfast who joined up in July 1915, according to his account after being given a white feather. He spent most of the war in Ireland, where Holmes says he was involved in the suppression of the Easter Rising "though the chapter dealing with this was so sharply critical of British conduct that it was omitted from the book."

He was sent to France in early 1918 and took part in a trench raid in which he was the only survivor, before the German March offensive.

However Holmes comments that it is "impossible to be sure how much of Hill's account accurately portrayed what happened at the time and how much reflected the passage of time (in which) anti-war opinion had hardened and he had honed his considerable skills as a writer" (the book was first published in 1936).

"It is concerned neither with balance nor objectivity. It is one man's view of a life changing experience and no reader who seeks to understand the war in its myriad faces can afford to ignore it" (Holmes again).

cheers Martin B

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Black Maria

Interestingly, I see that the reviews of this book on Amazon include one that thinks that this book was an amalgamation of other people's experiences by someone who had spent

little time in the front line. This is then countered by the author's son who assures him that he is mistaken and that his father, who had spent two years in hospital recovering from

the effects of a mustard gas attack, would have been " quite amused " by his criticism of the book.

I have just purchased an original 1936 copy of the book and look forward to reading it ,when it arrives.

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Dust Jacket Collector

I have just purchased an original 1936 copy of the book and look forward to reading it ,when it arrives.

An excellent buy, worthy of inclusion in the 'rarest book' thread. Definitely on my 'wants list' despite Hager & Taylor describing it as a 'dreary & depressing view of the War' in their bibliography of WW1 fiction.

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Black Maria

An excellent buy, worthy of inclusion in the 'rarest book' thread. Definitely on my 'wants list' despite Hager & Taylor describing it as a 'dreary & depressing view of the War' in their bibliography of WW1 fiction.

Funnily enough, it wasn't on my wants list and although I remember seeing the 2005 book for sale, I had not realised it was a reprint of a rare 1930's book until I chanced upon the original copy.

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Dust Jacket Collector

After many years I’ve finally managed to find an original copy of this elusive book about the March Retreat. Interestingly at the back, amongst a list of the publishers forthcoming titles, is - ‘Defeat - Victory’ by George Hill, described as a vivid account of the 1918 March Retreat. That sounds good, I thought, but searching online failed to show any record of such a work until I realised it must be the same book. Clearly a last minute decision to change the title and substitute the authors middle name for his first. I wonder why?

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Resurgam13

This is the dust-jacket on the 1936 Edition

8164_0001.jpg

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8164_0005.jpg

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seaJane

bounces off at a tangent, but I had no idea that Mrs Dennis Wheatley was an author too (foot of front jacket flap).

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Dust Jacket Collector

Wow, never thought I’d see that & signed as well! Thanks for sharing.

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staunton

British War & Allied Victory Medal as George Herbert Hill, Rifleman R Irish Rifles, 18/271 served with 1st Battalion (August 1914 in Aden; Returned to UK and landed at Liverpool on 22 October 1914. Moved to Hursley Park and came under command of 25th Brigade in 8th Division. 6 November 1914 : landed at Le Havre). 3 February 1918 : transferred to 107th Brigade in 36th (Ulster) Division.

 

Enlisted in 18th (Reserve) Battalion. Formed in Holywood in April 1915 as a Reserve Battalion, from depot companies of 11th and 12th Bns. Moved to Clandeboye in July 1915. Moved to England in April 1918, going to Larkhill where absorbed by 3rd (Reserve) Bn.

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Dermod Hill

Interesting thread. I can add some more detail.  The author was a member of the original Ulster Volunteer Force set up in 1912 to resist Home Rule. Like many with a strongly Protestant unionist background he subsequently enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles in response to Ktichener's call to arms.  The narrative of his book skips aspects of his service before being old enough to go the trenches.  His reserve battalion was sent to Dublin upon the Easter Rebellion in 1916.   At the request of a Dublin newspaper in the 1960s he wrote a short memoir about this experience.   It includes an episode in which he and others were ordered to advance up a street by knocking holes in the walls of the houses in order to avoid sniper fire.  The advance came to a halt when they found they had arrived in a pub.  A little bit of human colour in a pivotal moment of Irish history.  Despite his background he also recalled being struck by the demeanour and idealism of the captured rebels which contrasted to that of the average Tommy.   His book, like All Quiet On The Western Front, was written as a novel rather than a biography perhaps to avoid being side-tracked  by purely Irish political issues of the time. I think this was a pity as inevitably this reduces the sense of time and place in the early parts of the book.  It remains however essentially an account of his own experiences up to his near fatal wounds in a German gas attack.   He suffered recurring bouts of ill health for the remainder of his life and wore a complete set of dentures from the age of 20.  These experiences led eventually to his abandonment of any form of sectarianism and indeed of religious faith.  He was an admirer of the Russian revolution and became a lifelong socialist.   The success of his book led to a short career in the film industry before returning to journalism.  He wrote a second book set I believe in the Belfast of his youth which his publisher refused on the grounds that its contents were too raw for contemporary taste.   This manuscript is sadly lost and he never attempted another book.   Retreat From Death was republished in paperback partly through the efforts of one of his four sons, now a distinguished restaurateur and chef.   DPH

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Dust Jacket Collector

Fascinating Dermod. Thanks for sharing.

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