The book, Tommy’s War British Memorabilia 1914-1918, was published about ten years ago, but I have only recently purchased a copy and so it is realtively new to me. As it is still widely available for less than £10 on Amazon it seemed an ideal choice to take a closer look at. Its author Peter Doyle is widely respected and I have read a number of books by him before so I was sure I would be in for an interesting and informative read.
This book is a little curious as it works on two levels. Much of the text is a concise introduction to the First World War and the life of the British Tommy. It is well written and covers recruitment, trench life, entertainment and the aftermath of the war. This is all good stuff but not particularly innovative. What sets this book apart is the extensive use of period artefacts to illustrate the text with. These in turn are acompanied by highly detailed captions that explain their context and adds a lot of very interesting meat to the bare bones of the book. The photography throughout is superb and it is this part of the book that appeals so much to me as a collector as the author shares my philosophy that we can learn much about life from the material culture of the time.
These artefacts are by no means comprehensive and this isn’t the sort of book you turn to for detailed identification of an obscure button. Rather by reading it you get an excellent, well illustrated overview of the Great War and an idea of the breadth of collectables out there. Through the captions to the objects themselves a highly detailed view of life on the western and home fronts emerges. One detail I particularly like is the author’s choice of period comic postcards to illustrate the absurdities of military life and the personality of the men themselves comes across through the objects.
This book holds equal appeal to the serious collector and the casual enthusiast and is sumptuously illustrated. I would certainly recommend it for someone just studying the First World War for the first time, but equally it willl give great pleasure to the more serious student of the conflict who will enjoy both the quality of the illustrations and the new nuggets of information the author puts across. Highly recommended and perhaps a great last minute Christmas present for someone…