Part history, part social documentary, part love story, this is a grandson's search for what his grandfather did in the Great War. Drawing on war diaries in the National Archives, unit records in the Royal Artillery museum, and a unique pictorial record captured by his family on camera before and after the war, it tells of his grandfather's life before the war, his remarkable role in key stages of the war itself, and his life in India and Egypt afterwards before retiring in 1936.
The story begins with the author's recollections as a child of his grandparents and their home and tells how as he grew up he began to realise what a remarkable life his grandfather had lived. It describes the process of unravelling the story from a few brief clues, leading to the emotional experience of reading his grandfather's war diaries in the National Archives, which he had not known existed.
A theme of the book is that we find it impossible now to imagine what was in the minds of the British Expeditionary Force when they went to France in 1914. So much has changed that we cannot begin to understand why or how they put themselves in such danger, how they survived, and how they emerged victorious. A secondary theme is the question of how it all affected those who did survive. Much is made of the sacrifice of those who died, but this book allows a glimpse into the lives of those who had to live out their lives with the memories of what they had seen.
After the introductory chapter, the book covers:
Guy Meade's early life and education;
A tour d'horizon of the artistic and social revolution at the end of the 19th century and in the early years of the 20th;
Guy's early army career and his love of the horses that framed his life;
His wedding, including a unique description of the day reprinted from the local paper;
The mobilisation of the BEF, the Battles of Mons and Le Cateau, and the remainder of the Retreat;
The seminal first Battle of Ypres;
Guy's three years as Brigade Major Royal Artillery, 61st Division, in which role he was responsible for the barrage ahead of the disastrous Battle of Fromelles;
The subsequent history of 61st Division, including their role at the time of Operation Michael;
Guy's transfer to V Corp, in which role he fought all the way back to Mons: four years and 400 yards away from where he started;
His role as Battery Commander of D Battery RHA in India and Egypt after the war;
His final and most senior appointment as Commander, Royal Artillery, before retiring in 1936;
The final chapter records life during the Second World War and the way the family was affected, especially by the death of Percy Todd, his illustrious naval brother-in-law.
The story concludes with the author's reflections on his grandfather's life and the realisation of what he had achieved.