Deserters of the First World War (ePub)
The Home Front
The story of First World War deserters who were shot at dawn, then pardoned nearly a century later has often been told, but these 306 soldiers represent a tiny proportion of deserters. More than 80,000 cases of desertion and absence were tried at courts martial on the home front but these soldiers have been ignored. Andrea Hetherington, in this thought-provoking and meticulously researched account, sets the record straight by describing the deserters who disappeared from camps and barracks within Great Britain at an alarming rate.
She reveals how they employed a range of survival strategies, some ridding themselves of all connection with the military while others hid in plain sight. Their reasons for desertion varied. Some were already living a life of crime whilst others were conscientious objectors who refused to respond to their call-up papers. Boredom, protest, troubles at home or physical and mental disabilities all played their part in men deciding to go on the run.
Andrea Hetherington’s timely book gives us a vivid insight into a hitherto overlooked aspect of the First World War.
Much has been written about the 306 soldiers who executed during the First World War but this new book by Andrea Hetherington provides a timely study of the more than 80,000 cases of desertion and absence tried in the UK. We discover a wide range of motivations for desertion, from principal to protest. Links with criminality are explored - both the impact of criminals entering the Army and the criminality associated with deserters who were without other means of support. Throughout this well researched book the links to policy and the approach of local communities, the Army and legal system are well explained. However, the rich and sometimes dark nature of the personal stories of people involved bring human interest and certainly help to make this a great read. While some cases seem straightforward many more bring shades of grey, and sometimes lead to tragic consequences for those involved.David Barras, Secretary of the Northumberland Branch of the Western Front Association
This book is a must read for those with any interest in the home front in Britain during the First World War. Highly Recommended.
Rating: 5 out of 5 starsNetGalley, Emma Albery
Brilliant book, well researched and very well written. I didn’t know that many men abandoned their original units to get to the front faster. This really helps with my family research.
Rating: 5 out of 5 starsNetGalley, Hilary WHITE
So this book is very much an eye opening read, taking things that most people who are interested in either war or family history and expanding the vistas behind it to the incredibly personal and giving real meaning to the ideas of the “impact” of this war on so many people. This together with both established class privilege and further the seeming randomness of the legal process for ordinary people (no doubt matching that of the military experience for so many men) makes this quite a painful read at times. The impact of the establishment of minutiae of military requirements on people (often those who didn’t even volunteer for this life) on top of the daily financial difficulties of life for so many are especially poignant for readers who might experience something similar. Hetherington has produced an impressive melding of facts and reactions and the impact on ordinary people, so this is a very humane and important book even for the non specialists.
Rating: 5 out of 5 starsNetGalley, Gemma Allen
I really enjoyed this book. Having already read a lot of books about the First World War, this book was refreshing and a very enjoyable read, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the war and social history.
Rating: 5 out of 5 starsNetGalley, Sue Sykes
This book was such an emotive read. I really enjoyed the read and would so recommend it but be prepared to have tumbling emotions.
Rating: 5 out of 5 starsNetGalley, Catherine Hankins
I enjoyed this book as it gave me insight not only into the war, but the challenges the everyday men faced in fighting it, or not. Good historical account and seems as well researched as it could be considering the shelling Britain took during either world war. I am aware of records be lost due to bombings in Europe, so London's losses don;t surprise me. I am glad the author has worked to gather the info into the this book. It needs to to told. Kudos to Andrea Hetherington. I was also glad to learn those who were executed were exonerated.
The author has succeeded in delivering the story of desertion on the home front that rightly adjusts the focus from the ‘shot at dawn’ story at the battle front. Putting aside that many of the 307 who were subsequently ‘pardoned’ in a time when the judicial system and social structures had changed, the story of home desertion follows a similar pattern but without the fatal consequences. In general the home deserter (or absentee) followed a similar pattern of men ill fitted to serve in the military. Many were petty criminals, social misfits and men conditioned by a growing change in social values that some took as a basis to confront military and civil authority. Many were serial offenders, absconding on several occasions. No doubt many just didn’t want to serve in the military and preferred civilian life.Michael McCarthy
This book brings together many sources and accounts that illustrate the matter and explains the context in which a minority of men let down their comrades. The occasions when their actions were prompted by a form of altruism are depressingly few.
Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide
An online talk by Andrea Hetherington based on her forthcoming book 'Deserters of the First World War- the Home Front'. Available to view via the WFA YouTube channel.