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The Platoon (Hardback)

An Infantryman on the Western Front 1916-18


Edited by Steve Roberts, Edited by Andrew Robertshaw
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781848843615
Published: 2nd November 2011



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Joseph Johns Steward fought in the Great War, from the Battle of the Somme to the final offensives of 1918, and he was an acute, unflinching observer of the conflict he took part in – of life and death on the Western Front. He was a writer, too. He recorded his experiences in accurate detail and later in life he wrote a graphic semifictionalized account of his wartime career, his comrades and his platoon. His narrative is published here for the first time, edited, annotated and with an introduction by Andrew Robertshaw and Steve Roberts.
Their research into Steward's story is a fascinating example of how such work can be used to give a vivid insight into the experiences of a Great War ancestor. For Steward provides an in-depth soldier's eyeview of combat and of the routines of life,
and survival, in the front line. He concentrates on his immediate experiences and on those of his platoon, the small, close-knit team of men who together confronted the reality of fighting during key battles on the Western Front. His recollections leave us with a strong impression of the contrasting personalities of his comrades in arms, with whom he shared the extraordinary ordeal of war.
The Platoon demonstrates, as only a first-hand account can, what the war was like at the lowest level, for the ordinary private soldier for whom grand strategy and major events are distant concerns and for whom rations, letters, leave – and comradeship – are critical.

A fascinating memoir penned in the 1930s by J.J.Steward who served on the Western Front with the 13th London Regiment. …with the addition of detailed notes provided by editors Andrew Robertshaw and Steve Roberts, the reader gains an insight into the war of the ordinary soldier at the front. The book leaves a strong impression of the horrors and reality of life at the front. Fascinating memoir.

The Great War, March 2012

Although the author was not in a regiment that is represented in the current household division, it should encourage anyone who might be interested in researching their own first world war relatives that quite such a comprehensive picture can be created, with due measures of luck and persistence.

Guards Magazine

The editors went to great lengths to describe their research in some detail and the book is of value as a description of the available sources and how to make use of them, which makes it invaluable to family historians with an interest in the Great War. It is also a very interesting novel.
We can trace the novel through the moves of the 13th in reality and see the extent to which it is based on real events and this makes this a most important source and a most readable one.

Western Front Association, Strand To! No 94

For me the main value of the book is the view it provides of life on the Western Front from the point of view of a normal soldier. The most obvious feature is the ever-present threat of death, with countless characters disappearing very suddenly.

History of War

The account is vivid and written in a rather jaunty style. It makes for interesting and at times amusing reading... Anyone interested in the 1/13th Londons or the 56th (London) Division it is obviously worth a look.

The Long, Long Trail

An excellent book...seen through the eyes of an ordinary private soldier who recorded his experiences in accurate detail.

Military Historical Society

About Andrew Robertshaw

Editor - Andrew Robertshaw is Curator/Manager of The Royal Logistic Corps Museum in Deepcut, Surrey. For the past fifteen years he has been organizer of a variety of battlefield archaeological projects on the Western Front. He frequently appears on television as a commentator on battlefield archaeology and the soldier in history. His publications include A Soldier’s Life, The Somme 1st July 1916, Digging the Trenches (with David Kenyon) and Ghosts of the Somme (with Alastair Fraser and Steve Roberts).

Perfect Partner

At War with the 16th Irish Division 1914-1918 The Letters of J H M Staniforth (Hardback)

The letters of John 'Max' Staniforth are among the most perceptive, graphic and evocative personal records of a soldier's life to have come down to us from the Great War. They cover his entire wartime career with the 16th (Irish) Division, from his enlistment in 1914 till the armistice, and they have never been published before.rnrnFrom his first days in the army, Staniforth wrote fluent, descriptive weekly letters to his parents and, in doing so, he created a fascinating record of his experiences and those of the men around him. When the division arrived on the Western Front in 1915, he related…

By Richard Grayson

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