Monday, 1 January 2018

"Broken by Messines" by Mark Wardlaw

Broken by Messines in WW1 - The Grandparents I Never KnewBroken by Messines in WW1 - The Grandparents I Never Knew by Mark Wardlaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Peter Wardlaw met and fell in love with Catherine (Kate) Hay in the heady days before the Great War. The world was open for them to explore and neither forewent the opportunity to squeeze the most out of life. Peter worked hard for an engineering company and set up his own business while Kate sailed to work as a teacher in New Zealand - both remarkable adventures for such young people. Throughout the few years they were apart they wrote to each other, getting engaged by correspondence and keeping each other informed of daily life.

And yet a massive cloud covered the World. Europe plunged into war and soon other nations followed, including many New Zealanders and Australians who sailed to the other side of the world to protect the Old Country. Peter enlisted too and found himself fighting in the same theatre as these Antipodeans at Gallipoli, one of the most famous and most tragic battles of the War. From Turkey to Egypt and then on to France, Peter wrote to Kate often. Would they and their love survive the war?

We know the outcome of this because Peter and Kate are the author's grandparents. Many of the pieces of correspondence (from other family members and acquaintances as well as Peter) received by Kate survive and have been curated and pieced together with commentary by Dr Wardlaw.

This isn't a book about war and doesn't contain great detail about the events of War experienced by Peter; the letters would be censored so details would have been edited anyway. This book is a picture into Edwardian courtship and everyday life in Britain before the war. The interest isn't in the content, it is in the context. This is an unadulterated view of how people faced the time of great change and their feelings during this time. Much is hidden and in the final chapters we feel the emotion ourselves as their destiny reveals itself.

In my view the book would have benefited with more historical detail of the events that impacted upon Peter and Kay. The battles, U-boat peril and some social history are introduced but not built upon and with that background it would have been more interesting but to make too much of that would be unfair. Dr Wardlaw isn't trying to tell the story of the war, he is telling the story of his family. Ordinary people in an extraordinary time - would our own lives turn out the same if we faced the same challenges?

View all my reviews