Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Monocled Mutineer

First published in 1978, nearly forty years on, this is a timely and welcome re-print of a modern classic. My own copy of this book dates to 1986 and the paperback re-print issued to coincide with the BBC drama of the same name. It tells the story of a revolt; a mutiny even, by British and Commonwealth troops at Etaples in Northern France in 1917, and the charismatic and elusive Private Percy Toplis, the eponymous Monocled Mutineer. This Souvenir Press edition contains a new introduction by John Fairley, one of the co-authors, and new epilogue. That aside, the text is largely unchanged apart from some minor updates (inckluding the curious omission of the paragraph that dealt with acknowledgements to Murray Allison, Jill Barron, Tony Timmington and Richard Cackett).

Since this book was first published, many thousands of records have become available on line, and hundreds of new books have been written that cover aspects of the Great War in enormous depth. Hundreds of thousands of men passed through the hated "Bull Ring" at Etaples and The Monocled Mutineer probably gives the best overall account of the place. For this fact alone, the book is well-worth getting hold of.

If I have any criticism it is that more could have been done to make this work more accessible. An index would have been useful, and perhaps footnotes and a bibliography. The front cover photograph of troops in the trenches is credited to the Royal British Legion but who does the photo depict and which regiment were they serving with? Such detail could have been added without too much fuss and would have made the work more complete.

Nevertheless, this book will find a new audience - and deservedly so - as we approach the 100th anniversary of the mutiny in 2017.

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