By Paul Johnson and Dan Hill
Frontline Books, 2020
The centenary period saw a plethora of fantastic community projects and events. One of the notable successes was the Herts at War project, which combined exhibitions with research projects, education outreach, and a strong social media presence. This book collates some of the outputs of the project from two of the project team, Paul Johnson and Dan Hill.
Eight chapters plot the course of the war through the stories of the men and women of Hertfordshire and the parts they played in the war. There is one chapter covering each year of the war, plus one each for 1919 and 1920 (covering post-war events in Russia and Ireland). A final chapter covers the home front.
As an introduction the structure of the army is covered as well as details of the medals that could be awarded. A useful overview of the local units – the Hertfordshire Regiment and the Hertfordshire Yeomanry – is also briefly covered.
Each chapter covering the war years provides some brief context as to what happened that year. This is followed by short vignettes about individuals and their stories – some widely known, others not so. For example, the chapter on 1914 looks at the Hertfordshire-connected General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and VC recipient Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Martin-Leake, as well as the stories of the first Hertfordshire soldiers to lose their lives in the conflict and sailors who were lost in action during the naval engagements that year. Hertfordshire locations are helpfully indexed so readers with an interest in a particular area can look up relevant entries.
Some of the entries relate to artefacts that came to light during the research project. The story of Private Edward Ambrose is particularly poignant. A suitcase full of his wartime ephemera had been locked away in a suitcase after his death in 1916 and unopened for nearly a century. Without projects such as Herts at War, it is possible these stories would have remained untold.
Whilst primarily of interest to those interested in Hertfordshire or soldiers with a connection to the county, there is plenty of interest here for those with a general interest in the war. Whilst it does not provide a comprehensive narrative or chronology of the war, that is not the purpose of the book, and it is easy to dip in and out and to the multitude of fascinating stories within. It provides a fitting conclusion to a successful centenary initiative.
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