Friday, September 25, 2015

At War with the 16th Irish Division 1914-1918

At War with the 16th Irish Division 1914-1918  

By J.H.M.Staniforth, edited by Richard S. Grayson

Published in 2012 by Pen & Sword Military in association with the Imperial War Museums

I'm currently reading quite a few WW1 books to provide me with a fuller picture of the life of my great-grandfather during the Great War, and I was truly  delighted to find this book because 'Max' Staniforth also enlisted in the 6th Connaught Rangers and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he might have encountered my great-grandfather.
Max left his Oxford college to enlist as a private in 1914 and by the time he returned to civilian life in 1918, he had achieved the rank of Major in the 16th Irish Division. In the interim, he had endured hunger, cold, lice, scabies and war wounds; he had been shelled, shot at and gassed. He and his companions had crawled through decaying human body parts, watched men around them being machine-gunned, seen soldiers go mad and endured enormous privations in the service of King and Country. All of this he faithfully relates in his weekly letters home to his parents, in a calm, lucid and collected manner which gives an indication of why he rose through the ranks so quickly.

It paints a vivid picture of an almost unimaginable experience and this book has been my faithful vade-mecum for several weeks now. I have had to really resist the temptation to race through it, mainly because it is one of those exceptionally rare non-fiction triumphs, a book which you enjoy so much that you really cannot bear to reach the last page. Despite the subject matter, it is not a depressing book; Max Staniforth manages to relate plenty of tales of humour, courage, kindness and comradeship in the midst of the war, and the details of his daily life show what a brave and thoroughly decent man he was.

The editor, Richard Grayson, gives some tantalising information about Max's adventures after the war, and I really do hope that at some point a biography is written about of this fascinating man who held the posts of soldier, salesman, train driver, broadcast announcer and clergyman as well as husband and father.

Most definitely a book I shall both keep and re-read.

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