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Remembered Today:

Britain's Last Tommies: A Tribute to the Soldiers


J Banning
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Further to Chris Baker’s review of this on the main site I can report that I have just finished this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it excellently written and it showed a great deal of integrity with regard to the facts and figures given as well as clearly showing the author’s compassion and understanding of the hundreds of veterans he has interviewed over the last twenty years.

As a tie-in to The Last Tommy BBC1 TV programme (2nd part due out tonight at 9pm) I think it gives a much wider viewpoint and is top reading. I particularly liked the author’s recollections on his experiences in meeting these extraordinary men and found the dedication to Matthew, whoever he was, very moving (you have to read the introduction to see what I mean!) I also found it fascinating seeing the list compiled by the author of the last DCM winner, last officer, last Gallipoli veteran, last 1st July 1916 man, last Jutland veteran etc… It is pretty obvious that the author has spent a lot of time over the last two decades meeting, interviewing and cataloguing these wonderful men.

Having read many works by van Emden I am chuffed to bits that he seems to have hit the mark again. I have commented on the forum in the past about Max Arthur’s work. I thought, having read ‘Britain’s Last Tommies’ and having spent a good hour or two sitting in my local Borders bookshop scrolling through Max Arthur’s ‘Last Post’ that Chris’s comments basically labelling them as similar was totally misjudged. This is nothing like Max Arthur’s book whatsoever.

Richard van Emden has done these men proud. I would recommend all those pals eulogising about the TV programme to buy this. I am glad I did. Then again, this is worth a look even if you don’t buy the book.

Cheers

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Ralph, I am glad you enjoyed the book.

In defence of my review, I said "Essentially, both works attempt the same thing in illustrating the experience of the war by using the words of the few surviving veterans". That is true.

I also said "Van Emden lays out the quotes in a chronological sequence, interlacing them with some commentary giving context and also his own memories and observations about the men he interviewed. The selection of photographs is good, mixing images of these men as they were in 1914-1918 with the present day".

I said too, "As with Arthur's book, I shall not be rushing out to buy". I won't. It's not my stuff at all, but hey, that's personal choice.

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Chris,

Completely respect your personal choice! It's just that this IS my kind of thing and I loved it. Judging by the comments on the forum from other pals re. the TV programme I thought I'd give my views.

Would love to hear from anyone else that has read this.

Off out for the night now, hope I have set the video properly!

Cheers

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Hi Chris and Ralph,

Whilst I have to declare an interest as I am good friends with Richard - and I know Max well too, I think that the two books are very different indeed and Chris, while I hear your explanation, I think you are unfair to say they attempt the same thing.

Richard's book is based on his own personal memories of meeting the Veterans he writes about and has some great stories; I think it is a shame to dismiss it so flippantly.

We all enjoy different types of books and I wouldn't expect you to say that you would rush out to buy it if you were not going to.

However your curt dismissal gives the impression that the book is not worth reading which is certainly not the case - in my opinion, of course!

With best wishes,

Taff

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'd just like to add to help differentiate between Richard & Max's titles.

I have an article on my website by Max about his book which will help define it for you. There is a good review of Richards book on amazon which may also help.

Incidentally the book and tv programme are in fact not related, as an unoffical tie-in what great timing & PR! Beautiful!

Me, I'd buy both books anyway...

Cheers

Ryan

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I've just finished Richard Van Emden's book and can say that it's a thoroughly enjoyable and poignant read. I too found that it differs from the usual ' first hand account' sort of book in that you can feel the author actually spoke to these men rather than relying on archive sound recordings. Add it to your christmas list !!

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  • 2 weeks later...

This book has really got me interested in first hand accounts. Does anyone know of books in a similar vein. I have the Max Arthur ones.

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Strangely, today I got 'Veterans' by van Emden and Humphries out of my local library.

Sure many have read it.

It's a follow up of the 1998 TV series/programme which I never saw.

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It would be nice to get a copy of that programme.

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Hi Folks

My interest in the surviving veterans is by now,I believe, well known to most of you. I bought Veterans when it came out & am hoping that Santa will be bringing both the most recent books to me on Dec 25th, although I have seen signed copies of Max Arthur's book for sale in a local shop at a "bargain" price.......

Cheers

Mark

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Hi Mark,

I have it on good authority that a handful of copies of Richard's book, autographed by some of the surviving Veterans, will be auctioned on ebay soon to raise money for the favourite charities of the veterans concerned...

Cheers,

Taff

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Is there any more news about the veteran signed copies ?

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No news on special signed copies yet - I would sign up to the pen & sword mailing newsletter on their website as no doubt they will send this out as a mail.

I am also seeing Richard tomorrow so I'll ask and come back to you if anything further!

Cheers

Ryan

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Hi,

I have spoken with Richard and he tells me that he is currently gathering signatures of the Veterans which, as you can imagine, is not a quick job.

However, he has promised to let me know as soon as he has some news and I will post the details here.

With best wishes,

Taff

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here's an update folks, in January - Pen & Sword will ebay some copies for good causes that Richard will have signed by Harry Patch & Henry Allingham (unfortunately Harold Lawton who was to be signatory no.3 is not well enough but we do wish him well soon). As Richard pointed out, there does seem to be some correlation that to live long & prosper one must have a name begining with the letter 'H'...

The auction is expected to be about second week onwards. As soon as the listing is up and if you haven't already found it I'll let you know!

cheers

Ryan

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Hi Chaps,

I was fortunate to be given a copy of thsi book for Christmas by the dearly beloved !

Having now read it I can quite see why some people would not find it to their own personal tastes. In many ways it does nothing to clarify specific events and lacks the overall perspective of the various campaigns.

That being said I must admit for me is was absolutely first class.

The authors obvious love and empathy for this subject is apparent right from the start. In many ways it comes across as a project which has been put together with great respect and reverence for the veterans.

As I said at the start it does not do much to clarify particular battles from a global or military perspective, but from a humanist perspective it does much to bring home just what these chaps went through. For me it has always been the humanist perspective which has dominated. At the end of the day it is the humanist view which motivates us to "remember". To understand what they went through and the sacrifice they and their pals made. It is this that drives me and hopefully others to learn from the mistakes that were made so that our children never have to be subjected to what that generation was forced to endure.

On that human and very emotional front this book is first rate. Especially as we are now in that twilight period at the end. It is a fitting and moving memorial to those who will soon no longer be with us. Sadly it will not be long before we will be reading this book and looking back on it as pure history.

I congratulate Richard on a fine book which should be a must for all colections. Even if only as a memorial to those who survived for so long.

Best Wishes

James

Edited by tombowcock
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as the book deals with the experiences of individuals whose only perspective was perhaps the parapet I don't see why it should deal with the ' bigger picture'. The chaps in the thick of it often had no idea of the campaign they were involved in or its global or military perspective.

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I've just finished reading it. Thought it was marvellous. The image that stays is the soldier looking over the parapet for the first time one night and seeing hundreds of twinkling lights on the gorund before him...so sad.

marina

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  • 3 weeks later...

are the veteran signed copies available yet ?

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This book sounds very interesting. I watched the BBC documentries and it pretty much brought me to tears. I shall have to look up the book and give it a read.

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I have read the book,as a review all you have to do is take a look at the picture of harry patch,his eyes say it all with out saying anything

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are the veteran signed copies available yet ?

Hopefully 1 will be on Ebay next week and the other on the Pen & Sword website - both at auction to raise funds for charity as mentioned.

Keep your eyes peeled!

Cheers

Ryan

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  • 4 weeks later...

ive just finished reading this book, is there anyone out there with any recommendations for any other books, that go along the same kind of style of writing. thanks for the help.......

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