The following book reviews and reports have appeared since publication in May 2011 and stand as testament, alongside feedback I am getting from talks, as to how well the book is being received. I am particularly pleased with the short, but succinct review from Evelyn Lord, as this comes from a distinguished academic social historian of the 20th century.
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The Northern Echo, 26 May 2011
Forgotten Battalion goes into print: The story of a forgotten North-East battalion that played a crucial role in the First World War has been chronicled in a new book. ‘The 11th Durham Light Infanty: In their own names’ by Martin Bashforth tells the story of the pioneer battalion that provided skilled labour for the 20th Division.
Mr Bashforth, of York, was inspired after he began trying to learn more about his grandfather, Sergeant Thomas Bashforth, who died towards the end of the war. The author spent 12 years working on the book using family histories and individual service records to provide details of how the men died, how families coped with their loss and survivors returned to civilian life. The battalion was originally formed to provide “intelligent labour”, from digging trenches and laying barbed wire to creating the rail lines. They also took up arms when the need arose.
A major source of information was provided by the family of Robert Bennett, of Shotton Colliery, who died on the Somme in 1916. Mr Bashforth said, “He wrote letters to his family throughout his time in service, particularly about the battalion when it was in training. His letters give insight into how the men adjusted from being miners to being soldiers and helped give a human face to the book”. Mr Bashforth said, “It was one of the less celebrated battalions, but it played a crucial role”. Several family members of Robert Bennett attended a book launch at the Durham Light Infantry Museum and Art Gallery.
Family History Monthly, July 2011
Originally a battalion of volunteers who joined up in 1914, the 11th were joined by men from all over Britain and the Commonwealth. Martin Bashforth recounts their war. His impressive research provides an amazing military history story, and perhaps an inspiration for genealogists tracing soldier relatives.
The Great War, Vol X, Issue 56, July 2011
A striking and poignant account of the story of the 11th DLI and how the war affected the men who served and those they left behind. Originally raised from volunteers in 1914, the battalion eventually contained men from all over Britain and the wider Empire. A Pioneer Battalion, they were primarily used for skilled labour within the 20th Division, but they also served as infantry whenever needed. The book contains extracts from over 80 letters written by a former miner from the Shotton Colliery, Robert Bennett, who served with the Battalion and who died in 1916. There is also a lengthy Roll of Honour listing in the appendices, which serves to complete this fine work and the research undertaken by the much respected historian, Martin Bashforth. This is a worthy testament to the men of the Battalion and their families. [9/10 – Mark Marsay]
Family Tree, November 2011
Martin Bashforth uses family histories and service records to provide a poignant insight not only into the lives of the men of the 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry who served in the Great War, but also the lives of the loved ones who survived them, and the descendants who will remember them. Featuring letters penned by former miner Robert Bennett, the book reveals the daily concerns of an everyday soldier both in his training and at the Front. Bashforth establishes how men died, how families coped with their loss, and how survivors returned to ‘civvies’. A touching human history of war.
Family and Community History Society Newsletter, Vol 12 No 2, June 2011
The author seeks to discover the grandfather he never knew. Sergeant Thomas Bashforth – a plasterer who volunteered – was killed in 1918, aged 29. This study is a tribute both to him and to the rest of a Pioneer battalion that was created to provide skilled and unskilled labouring support, and to serve as infantry at critical times. The 11th Durham Light Infantry (DLI) recruited in 1914 from County Durham, and from parts of Northumberland and North Yorkshire. Bashforth places its recruits in their family and community context, many (at least initially) from mining communities, and tasked with activities that included tunnelling, digging and reinforcing trenches, road making, and supplying gas attacks.
Bashforth uses a wide range of sources, including soldiers’ letters home, newspapers, war diaries, and individual service records, to paint a detailed picture of life at the Western Front. There is moving testimony of the impact of the many deaths and injuries on families, some of whom experienced anxiety and frustration in delaing with War Office bureaucracy. As well as a narrative of the 11th DLI war years Bashforth explores the process of demobilisation, and issues of remembrance and commemoration. His discussion of forms of remembrance – private, and official – contributes to a literature that includes Alister Thomason’s Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend (OUP, 1994).
This readable book is illustrated with sketch maps of those parts of the Western front where the 11th DLI operated, plus photographs, many of DLI graves. There is also a roll of honour, which helps to personalise the long casualty list; and a list of courts martial, extensive bibliogrpahy, and index. The book is a fine memorial to the men (and, to some degree, their families) of the 11th DLI. Bashforth acknowledges that the process of researching and writing the book has had an influence on himself, prompting questions such as whether the war was justified, and what impact it has had on his (and other) families over several generations. [Dick Hunter]
The Local Historian, Vol 42 No 2, May 2012 (p 160-161)
The 11th Durham Light Infantry In Their Own Names is about the men who served and died in that regiment and, unusually for a regimental history, also follows the fortunes of their families and discusses how survivors coped with civilian life. The book is well referenced and includes a full bibliography, and is an exemplary example of how a regimental history can also be a good social history. [Evelyn Lord]