• There was a Soldier. by Angus Konstam

    First-Hand Accounts of the Scottish soldier from 1707 to the present Day

    I was sent this book several weeks ago and it has taken me some time to review. Not because it is a difficult read but because it is essentially a number of fascinating short stories. I really enjoyed it, partially because it features regiments I know well – all Scottish of course – and partly because each excerpt gave a real feel of the battle and/or the circumstances it was describing.

    Spanning over three centuries, written by Privates, Sergeants, Lieutenants, Troopers, Majors the book is divided into sections reflecting the Scottish soldier’s/regiment’s role in war through the centuries: the Age of Reason, The Napoleonic Wars, The Wars of Empire, The Great War, The Second World War and The World’s Policemen. Each section has an historical preface placing the regiments, the battles and the writers within context and then there is a small introduction before each excerpt. A sort of 3-dimensional history lesson! No two entries read the same; there are letters, diaries and reports portraying humour, pathos, brutality, bewilderment, adrenaline, excitement and terror. My only complaint is that it would have been helpful to have a map showing the position of the protagonists or writers in each case; I can however see that this would not have been an easy item to include.

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    There is a lot of information to absorb with each ‘forward’ and I sometimes had to read this twice, but I found the book fascinating. I wish I had had access to it when I was studying history; it brings many of the battles alive and I suspect for some it may bring back memories best left forgotten; Warrenpoint in particular. Some of the excerpts are almost forensic in their explanation which somehow makes the events seem even more tragic.

    It is a book to pick up and put down and I keep on remembering different passages (it is a book that sticks in your mind); the hilarious story at Lucknow, by Sergeant William Forbes Mitchell of 93 Highlanders involving stew, Charley F, and the Camel; the explanation about what happened (or did not happen) at the Battle of Culloden; and then this from Second Lieutenant William Brownlies of 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry in 1944 which stopped me in my tracks ‘ If the wind is quietly blowing through the trees, and everything else is still, I physically feel what it was like to be in a field in Normandy at the end of a day. Not mentally, just physically. It is a strange feeling.’ I wonder for how many other men and women that feeling has resonated down the centuries?

    I would recommend this book wholeheartedly if you are interested in British history. Although written about the Scottish soldier, I think that the title does a disservice to the contents. This book is simply for anyone interested in how centuries of conflict have shaped our world.

    Wine recommendation 4 glasses


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