A paperback book of fourteen short histories of apparently randomly selected men who served during WW1 and whose name has not become well known outside their own circles yet are still celebrated as heroes of the hour.
- Scott Addington
The stories range from the irascible Private soldier never out of trouble to the officer who continues on to a successful military career. Some died in the performance of their acts, some later in the war and some survived the whole affair.
The first story is of the lovable rogue. Pte John ‘Barney’ Hines of the 45th Australian Bn. Born in Liverpool Hines had led an adventurous life; after trying to join the army at the age of 14 and being refused he waited a short time, lied about his age and joined the Royal Navy. After his stint in the RN he left for Australia. On the outbreak of war he tried to join the Australian Army but was told that at 41 he was too old. Turning round what he did in joining the Navy, he lied about his age again, this time taking years off, he got in and was eventually shipped to France. Not a great believer in authority, he was often in trouble and very often aided and abetted by the demon drink. He finally became a Lewis gunner and a very good one. His appetite for getting at the Germans was very high and he soon got the reputation as a good gunner. Out of the front line though he was a complete pain to his officers and had a long charge sheet. His claim to fame though was as a ‘souvenir’ hunter. If you wanted something German, he was the man to go to. A photograph was taken of him, and it is in the book, surrounded by items he has proffed, from ammunition, grenades, to helmets, rations, water bottles and packs. This photograph incensed the Germans so much that there was supposed to be a bounty placed on his head by the Kaiser! There are many instances of his bravery in the front line and times that he made dangerous journeys to help wounded comrades. These were witnessed by many including his officers, but it is reckoned that his behaviour out of the line stopped any bravery award going his way. I don’t think he was that bothered. An illustration is once when out of the line and visiting Ypres he ‘found’ a barrel of beer, stopped by an MP he was told to leave it which he did – just to go and get his mates and between them they drank the beer there and then! Barney went through the war in France up to 1918 when he was gassed and hospitalised. While in hospital it was bombed and he was wounded again, but despite that he got up, grabbed a crutch and helped the hospital staff evacuate the other patients. Barney was invalided home and discharged in October 1918. He had various hard jobs until finally settling down in Sydney and raising chickens. He became a regular visitor at the Veterans’ Hospital and brought them eggs and veg from his farm. In 1939 Barney tried to re-enlist yet again but as he was in his mid-60s by then the Army decided not to take him up! Hard man, yes; rogue, certainly; hero – no doubt!
There are thirteen other stories including a pilot who earned a DFC in WW1 and a Bar to his DFC in WW2!
The book starts of with a brief discussion of “What is a Hero?” This book is to prove that the real heroes are not footballers paid megabucks to chase a ball, nor actors in a TV soap; I think the author has succeeded.
There are numerous books on WW1 just now with all the centenary commemorations going on, but this would be a great addition for anyone wanting to read about the ordinary soldier, sailor or airman of WW1.
4/5 Mr MRHs.