Saturday, 4 February 2017
Rough, So Read a Book.
Been rough the last couple of days and have only ventured out to the shops. This reflects the very exciting life I now lead. Apart from another highly satisfactory result from the Heart of Midlothian today there has been little to comment on. Fiddling with the laptop and reading books has been my lot and I managed to finish one at least.
"A Foreign Field" tells the true story of a few British soldiers caught behind the enemy lines after the Battle of Mons in 1914. As they withdrawal began the enemy swarmed all around and many a man was caught out by the advancing Germans. Some became prisoners, some killed on the spot, others after desperate measures of living off the land remained hidden in the houses and out buildings of French homes hoping to escape back home or survive the war.
German behaviour at this time was not pleasant. The village in the story had the unfortunate luck to be in what was to become part of the Somme battleground. They therefore had German authority over them and many troops billeted on them, both going to and coming from the battle. Going to the line troops were often reasonable while returning troops had the haunted looks war offers.
The local Major took opportunity not just to impose military rule but grabbed each and everything he could from the people. It appears he thought the peasants had more than they had and were hiding things from the Germans so he issued many orders demanding this that and the other. One demand included ordering that all Cock chickens should lay two eggs a day, another that all rabbits in the are should be counted! It was clear he was not a country lad.
Several soldiers remained hidden in the village for almost two years. Hiding in lofts and behind walls while Germans ruled the houses the men appeared in the open air dressed as locals and learning to speak the local patois. It fooled the invaders but not any local!
Inevitably one man fell for the prettiest girl in the village and in spite of mothers stern opposition a baby appeared also! The book concentrates on the relationship of these soldiers to the village and much of the problems arise from this relationship. Jealousy and resentment were common enough before the war but the straightened times, the threat of imprisonment and death if the men were found took its toll.
Several attempts to escape were made, the local smugglers knew the area well, however the vast number of occupying troops made this impossible. Indeed only one man, moving alone rather than in a group, managed to make it to the Netherlands and home.
Eventually someone tips off the enemy and the remaining men are captured. Tried and shot much to the villagers disgust many were more disgusted by their own treatment by the Germans. Many were condemned to death, most imprisoned and this meant a slow death anyway, and others soon afterwards removed to refugee camps far away. This was because the war at the Somme was now the main battle ground for the British and the Germans were with drawing to new positions. They then destroyed deliberately the entire area, villages, churches, farms, woods were cut down, cellars turned into dangerous mines, booby traps laid everywhere, the village turned to rubble.
The book from this point concentrates in searching for the one who informed the Germans of the presence of the British soldiers and what was the motive?
So we have a war book with little direct war, a clandestine group of soldiers, a love story (yuk) and a mystery. The book rattles along at a decent pace and while I had heard of the tale a while back this gives an in depth study of the times. How courageous these French folks were! Many like them died for their efforts to aid such men, and after the war a medal and other tokens were received from London as reward, one couple at least were taken before the King, they had hidden one soldier in a cupboard for four years in a house full of Germans! Deprivation, fear, fighting the enemy in any way possible and finally traitors! This was a decent book even non Great War lovers would read.