Soldier from the wars returning

Charles Carrington

Pen & Sword, 2015

soldier-from-the-wars-returningCharles Carrington enlisted underage into the 9th Yorks and Lancs but was kept behind when they went overseas as he was only 18. He eventually got a transfer to the 1/5th Warwicks and saw active service; his experiences are covered in his memoir ‘A Subaltern’s War’ (written under the pseudonym Charles Edmonds), considered by many as one of the ‘classic’ memoirs of the war. This book, written in the 1960s, focuses rather on the wider context of the war and the experiences and life of the British soldier.

Carrington runs through a potted history of the war, which I found a little dry. However he intertwines this history with descriptions of the life of the soldier and his own experiences. Some of his narrative I found particularly poignant, for example his description of La Boisselle two weeks after the opening day of the Somme, where he describes ‘the grassy slope strewn with bodies, like St. James’s Park on a fine afternoon.’

It is the vignettes of daily life at the front that really bring this book to life for me. Descriptions of activities such as marching and censoring mail on the face of it sound fairly mundane, yet Carrington manages to provide such a level of detail and feeling that a vivid picture is drawn; the words and recollections of these men are of course the closest that those of us with an interest in the war will ever be able to get to understanding it.

The fact that the book was published in the 1960s is no coincidence, I feel. With anti-war sentiment rising, Carrington’s work provides a balance to the ‘lions led by donkeys’ view of the war, and although he is not uncritical of Douglas Haig he believes he won the war. He affirms that he was pro-war and felt he was taking part in something worth doing.

Carrington also describes some of the difficulties of re-adjusting to civilian life. Interestingly he also mentions how hard it was seeing Armistice Day turn from a day of celebration into one of mourning. Overall this is well worth a read to understand the feelings of a returning soldier towards the war many years later.

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Soldier from the Wars Returning