Soldiering on: Old Soldiers Never Die, Frank Richards (1933)

Most memoirs of the Great War were written by officers, and there are numerous volumes with titles along the lines of A Subaltern at Ypres. This is not to denigrate the experience of these men, but they formed a minority of those who participated. By comparison the number of memoirs written by the majority, the other ranks, is tiny. This book is one of them.

Richards served in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, and although a miner, had originally served with the battalion in India (hence his other book, Old Soldier Sahib) before spending some years as a reservist. Called up at the start of the war, he served with the battalion all the way through to the end, one of the very few to come through without a scratch.

The 2nd Royal Welch are well served in a literary sense, as two of its more famous members are Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon, and it was also the subject of the detailed battalion history, The War the Infantry Knew written by Capt JC Dunn. I am currently struggling my way through this and have been for some months. It is fascinating being able to compare the different experiences of men who served with the same unit and their differing perceptions of what happened. Richards started off a private, and largely through choice we are told, ended the war that way. He says he had no desire for the responsibility NCO rank would have brought, but reports that others jumped from the rank of private sometimes straight to sergeant depending on how badly they were needed.

It’s a very chatty book, and reading it I got the impression that Richards recorded his experiences as if recounting them to a group of mates down the pub. He was wise to do so rather than attempt a more literary style, as that would have been forced and come over as less genuine, although I understand that Graves gave him some help with the editing.

An annotated version providing maps (which I always find helpful) and some more biographical detail, edited by John Krijnen and David Langley is also available(scroll down).

Similar, but written in a very different style is With a Machine Gun to Cambrai by George Coppard, a corporal in the Machine Gun Corps, which I read last year and thoroughly enjoyed.

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One response to “Soldiering on: Old Soldiers Never Die, Frank Richards (1933)

  1. Pingback: World War 1 - Book recommendations - Page 2

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