Friday, 1 April 2016

Brighton & Norwich in The Great War

Pen & Sword's Towns and Cities in the Great War series has a lot to commend it, and I've just finished reading a couple of recent additions: Brighton in the Great War (Pen and Sword, £14.99) and Norwich in the Great War (Pen and Sword, £12.99).

Brighton in the Great War

At 266 pages, this is one of the better value books in this series. Of particular interest to me are the sections dealing with the military and auxiliary hospitals in the town. The vast majority of the men who found themselves transferred out to Chailey's two auxiliary hospitals had originally been treated at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital in Dyke Road. That hospital is well-covered in this book, as are many others, including the Kitchener Hospital and the Brighton Pavilion, transformed as a hospital to treat Indian troops. The author must have spent many hours on this particular research project and has mad good use of contemporary reports published in local newspapers and elsewhere. This is an easy and compelling read.

Norwich in the Great War

This volume, slightly cheaper than the Brighton in The Great War, also has a 50 per cent lower page count. That's a shame because Norwich was an important hub in this part of England and I would have thought that there would have been plenty more relevant information that could have usefully been published here. The Norfolk Regiment, for instance, is barely touched upon, and yet the city of Norwich provided two companies for the 4th Battalion (Territorial Force), and one battalion for the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion (TF). The Norfolk Yeomanry was also headquartered in the city, and Norwich provided one of the regiment's four squadrons. None of these men have a voice in this book. The author also asserts that the Norfolk Regiment's nickname, "Holy Boys", owes its origins to the city of Norwich having many churches. More colourful - and, I have to say, plausible - origins of the nickname which the author might have added are that it was gained when a) the men sold their bibles during the Peninsula Wars to buy drink or b) Spanish soldiers mistook the figure of Britannia on the men's badges for the Virgin Mary.

Local effort in the Great War

I have several of the books in Pen and Sword's Towns and Cities series but it is really pot luck as to whether the author has gone the extra mile to really get under the skin of the place during the Great War. Douglas D'Enno has done so for Brighton, Stephen Browning could have done more for Norwich. Having said that, both books - and books in the series in general - are full of evocative photos, many published in book format for the first time, and there are plenty of snippets of information which help to paint a picture of the time. Were I living in Brighton or Norwich with only a passing interest in local history I would still consider both books essential additions to my library. I just might feel I'd got better value if I lived in Brighton.

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