Monday, 6 June 2011

FACTUAL REVIEW:Tommy's Ark - Richard Van Emden

Release Date: 06/06/11


For soldiers in the Great War, going over the top was a comparatively rare event; much more frequently, they were bored and lonely and missing their families at home. Needing an outlet for their affection, many found it in the animal kingdom. Tommy's Ark looks at the war through the eyes of the soldiers who were there, and examines their relationship with a strange and unexpected range of animal life, from horses, dogs and cats to monkeys and birds - even in one case a golden eagle. Animals became mascots - some Welsh battalions had goats as mascots, some of the Scots had donkeys. And then there were the animals and insects that excited curiosity amongst men drawn into the army from the industrial heartlands of Britain, men who had little knowledge of, let alone daily contact with, wildlife. Civilians turned soldiers observed the natural world around them, from the smallest woodlouse to voles, mice and larger animals such as deer and rabbit. Richard van Emden explores his subject far more radically than previous attempts, revealing how, for example, a lemur was taken on combat missions in the air, a lion was allowed to pad down the front line trenches and how a monkey lost its leg during the fighting at Delville Wood on the Somme. It is illustrated with more than sixty previously unseen or rarely published photographs, drawn mainly from the author's own extraordinary collection.


A lot has been written about the men fighting in the First World War as there have been accounts of General’s, eyewitness accounts of the soldiers and of course the historian’s cold clinical point of view of the events, but one subject that is rarely mentioned is the little things that made a soldiers life bearable, the animals. Here in this title by eminent historian Richard Van Emden are the heart-warming tales of mascots, of animal tales of them facing the front line and how they all helped the soldiers of both sides such as the cats who would brave no man’s land to go from one side to the other for food. It’s a unique look at the war from a different viewpoint and it’s one that can help to bring the men to life that were on the front, whether it’s the English Officer who walked his lion round the trenches or the goats who were mascots to the tank divisions, there’s something here for everyone.

This title is wonderfully written and whilst at times harsh it is a slice of frontline life that perhaps very few have ever considered. All in a great addition to any WW1 readers shelves and definitely something unique.

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