The Stories of the Great War As Told By Their Medals
By Richard Cullen
Uniform Press, 2020
I suspect this title may have been better served had it been released during the centenary of the war, to capitalise on the growth in interest in researching those who fought in the war.
As it stands, this book is somewhat of an oddity; neither a research guide nor a book covering a specific battle, unit, or place. Instead the stories are disparate, linked by the fact that the author is custodian of the subject’s medals (or rather their miniatures, as it turns out).
That is not to say this book is not interesting. What it shows is how rich narratives about individuals who served can be reconstructed from just a few facts or the bare bones of a story.
All five featured in the book were decorated for gallantry, but there the similarities end. They were individuals from different backgrounds whose war experiences also differed. One was a nurse, one a gunner, one a driver, and one who served in all three branches of the services. Through their stories a naturally potted history of the war is told, interweaving their backgrounds and war time service and utilising a surprising array of sources (although naturally the fact they were all decorated for gallantry means that there is usually some information available about them, as opposed to the ‘ordinary’ Tommy for whom a paper trail may be more limited). All survived the war and details of their post-war lives are given. Finally the medals they were awarded are listed and explanations of each given.
The work is well-referenced and indexed and accompanied by over 50 illustrations and maps. Whilst the book may not appeal to everyone, the stories of the five individuals are interesting in themselves and make this book well worth a read.
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