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A Signaller's War

Pte L Ellis ed by David Langley
This rather unique offering covers the exploits of one Pte. Lawrence Ellis from signing up, underage, in 1915 through to his eventual demob in 1919. Unique in that rather than just being a war diary the original author includes a plethora of hand drawn sketches, many of which are included and make up the bulk of the book.

Sadly the editor is a obscenely heavy handed, often including his own thoughts and views rather than allowing Pte. Ellis to tell his own tale. Even indeed when he promises not to. He also I feel misses some opportunities and it feels as though the minutiae which may have been omitted or abridged could have given a more in depth look at the role and importance of the signaller. Field Marshall Haig certainly understood it, complimenting 40th division and indirectly Pte. Ellis and his small band of compatriots for their efforts in maintaining communications, though whilst the editor hints at this he doesn't appear to have any wider insight into the role itself or the problems faced by signallers then and now. One is rather left wondering whether merely publishing the diary in full would have been a better choice.

Still this is an excellent, if rather short read. Mercifully the editor included some of the original authors musings on the war itself and life in the Army, albeit with his own opinions. Whilst Pte. Ellis is at pains to disparage the notion that volunteers were duped into a perpetually fearful life of mud, rats, death and hunger the editor seems to include an awful lot of it. The editor's surprise at the compassion shown to the enemy or civilians almost mocks the everyman dialogue which Pte. Ellis gives. He decides that a verbatim conversation between soldiers on the press, propaganda and war correspondents is fictional without appearing to give any realistic justification for it and generally sticks his oar in when it really isn't needed.

Some parts are almost ironic, the Armistice and search for their new assignment being examples of communications gone awry which the editor rather misses. Also a sketch of Cavalry forming up merely accompanied by Pte. Ellis' notation, “A good sign“ though why appears to be lost on the editor, and indeed it's connection to signalling in the First World War.

For an ex signaller you'll see a great deal more in this book than the pen and sketch portraits of still familiar locations, though maybe left wanting more of the details presumably left out. From Ypres, the Somme, Cambrai and domestic bases this is still a fascinating account, if you can ignore the turd wrenchingly light coffee table style.

The original material in five stars, the commentary an irritating 2.

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