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Book Review

See Book Review category for more about Brian Bates book.

See Book Review category for more about Brian Bates book.

Book Review

Dorset’s Great War dead remembered

There cannot be a community in the country that was not deeply affected by the catastrophe that was the First World War. As the county town, Dorchester of course had to endure and suffer its share of bereaved relatives, empty living-room chairs, a generation lost, as the country took stock of the aftermath following the armistice.

Now, author Brian Bates has written a definitive gazette documenting those four momentous years in words and a wealth of illustrations. Dorchester Remembers the Great War is organised into eleven chapters which, following a foreword by Leslie Phillips MBE, is headed by a brief overview of Edwardian Dorchester and an account of how the war came to Dorchester.

For each of the four years of the war there follow accounts organised into two sections: the Battle Front sets the scene with an account of the events, strategies and developments across each theatre of the war for the given year.
Roll of Honour then deals with the backgrounds and obituary accounts of key troops of the Dorset regiments to fall in action. The book then concludes with chapters on a post-war roll of honour and remembrance and two appendices.   

As an example of one of the citations, there is that of Pte Frank Adams of the 3rd Btn the Dorsetshire Regiment (p.54) who enrolled with the Dorsets on 31st August 1914, even though he was only 5’ 2” and weighed under 8 stone. He also lied about his age, stating he was 19. Yet the appaling irony is that Adams was not killed by the enemy; he died after accidently being shot dead by a comrade. Frank’s father had to inform the coroner that Frank had turned 16 sixteen a month before his death. Considerably maturer was 30-year-old Rifleman Fred Piddden (p.131) who died from wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Brian Bates, a resident of Dorchester since 1969, has maintained a particular passion for the history of Dorchester ever since writing a thesis on the county town’s economy as it was in the 17th century, a subject on which he lectures from time to time. He particularly focuses on the common man and the community he is a part of.

Bates has previously published a transcription of the diary of William Whiteway, a 17th century Dorchester merchant as well as three biographies of military figures. He lives with his wife Doreen and two daughters.

Dorchester Remembers the Great War comes as a paperback in a six-and-three-quarter by ten inch format and is half-an-inch thick. It is published by the Roving Press at £12.99.
ISBN 978-1-906651-16-9

 A photo of the book cover is in the gallery.

Poole: Then and Now in Colour

See review of this book in the Poole and Book Review Categories

See review of this book in the Poole and Book Review Categories

Poole: Then and Now


Poole: Then & Now in Colour

“A poor fisher village” was how the ancient borough of Poole was described in bygone days. Doubtless so it once was, but today it is considered a place of beauty in which to live, work, play and, crucially, as a resort and vibrant cross-channel port. Its harbour lacked the depth to allow Poole ever to develop as a commercial container port like Southampton, yet it is a breath-taking statistical fact that only Sydney Harbour is larger among the natural harbours of the world. So we can be thankful that Poole has escaped the fate of those other ports and is instead noted for its absence of oppressive over-development and the attraction of its heathland and wildlife across the water.

Of course, over the decades there have been great changes. Now, for the first time, archive photographs and modern colour plates have been wedded to illustrate these changes in Poole’s development in a new hardback publication: Poole – Then & Now. It is the work of local historians Frank Henson and Ian Andrews who, cleverly juxtaposing the old and the new, have presented time-comparisons for 46 locations around the town. Each consecutive double-page spread features one of these locations. Each of the sites as it was is reproduced as a sepia print to preserve the period atmosphere, with the modern view inset or set alongside for comparison. Around each pair of illustrations a brief summary explanation of the history of the location has been set. In many instances common landmarks have disappeared (or become obscured) as old buildings have been demolished, others built. Other views, however, show little change or at least are still recognisable. For instance, it is interesting to compare the degree of change noticeable in the photos of Ashley Cross (pages 48/49) with those of Flag Farm on pages 56&57.  

But behind this publication a wealth of meticulous detective work has been undertaken. For it, Henson and Andrews explored Poole’s changing face, rediscovering monuments, landmarks and buildings thought to have been lost forever. Ian Andrews drew on his experience as a Town Clerk and Chief Executive Officer of the town’s Borough Council – besides serving as Poole’s Borough Archivist and founding several organisations. He is currently President of the Society of Poole Men. For many years a resident of Poole, Frank Henson’s interest is as a member of the Society of Poole Men; he too is a former Borough Councillor and also gives illustrated talks on the history of the area.

The book is 17cm by 24cm and about 1cm thick. There are 95 pages of pictures and text with magenta headings and sub-headings. After brief notes about the acknowledgements and authors a one page introduction leads into the main section of the book.

Poole Then & Now is published by the History Press ( as part of its Then & Now series aiming to create pictorial records for local people with a passion for delving into and re-discovering their local history.

It is £12.99. There is a photo of the book cover in the gallery area.

Three Little Books

Liz Chater has recently self-published three little books that will be of interest to anyone engaged in family history research or looking for relatives in the parishes of Symondsbury or Eype.  The books include photographs of all the Memorials with Inscriptions in the Symondsbury and Eype Churchyards as well as the Symondsbury Cemetery and include references to the entries in the burial register. The indices are particularly useful. The vast majority of our ancestors are not remembered in stone; furthermore the books would have benefited from the inclusion of a transcription of the full burial registers.

They are nicely presented with full colour covers but more importantly they are packed with information. For more about the books, the author and how to order use the following links.

Thomas Hardy – the Time-Torn Man

We see that the following book is still on the shelves of bookshops. We reviewed the book on our earlier site, when it first appeared. For the benefit of new readers we thought it might be helpful to publish our review again.


Thomas Hardy: the Time-Torn Man

Claire Tomalin


 Regular visitors to this site will likely have heard of the recent publication of Thomas Hardy: the Time-Torn Man, the latest addition to some dozen or so biographies of Dorset’s literary giant currently in and out of print, which includes Robert Gittings’ Hardy The Younger/Elder and several others. Author Claire Tomalin’s career as a journalist includes the literary editorship of the New Statesman and Sunday Times. As a biographer her impressive tally of seven previous titles includes Katherine Mansfield: a Secret Life; Jane Austen: a Life, and Samuel Pepys: the Unequalled Self. This last book was the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year winner. Claire Tomalin is the wife of the well-known playwright and author Michael Frayn.

Time-Torn Man opens with a nine-page prologue in which we are plunged
at once into the melodramatic death-bed scenario of Hardy’s estranged first wife Emma. The author therefore has employed the presentational device of fixing the reader’s interest and attention by taking a time of tragedy in her subject’s later life before regressing to his genealogical beginnings and then working back up to and beyond the fulcrum or start point. Claire Tomalin thus throws light on how the couple’s matrimonial tragedy led to how the opening scenario came to be.

Tomalin is also at pains to explode the widespread myth that her subject was entirely a dour and melancholic recluse, striking a good balance with plenty of references to the social and sunny side of his nature, his partying, joking, and gaiety of his youth, active participation in local productions of his stories, etc. She further reveals the extent to which the author was a “man for ladies”, but does not neglect to mention both his kindness and unkindness towards his first wife Emma.

Of course Hardy’s childhood, architectural apprenticeship and numerous visits to and living seasons spent in London are well-documented. And the narrative is as notable for pointing out what might have been in the subject’s life, as for what actually did happen. Naturally, Hardy’s many works are given extensive coverage in the order of their writing, and Claire Tomalin writes at length upon the inspiration for them, and includes many transcriptions of verse-excerpts, sapped from the author’s romances and other circumstances. There is for instance much fine detail about the adverse critical and public reception to Jude the Obscure, though the biographer could also have included the detail that the book was publicly burnt.

While many of Hardy’s literary (and musical) contemporaries, friends and associates appear in the narrative, such as Browning, Wilde, Thackeray, Kipling, Rider Haggard, P T Lawrence, J M Barrie and Tennyson; even Elgar and Gustav Holst, I was surprised and a little disappointed to find several notable omissions. For example, that of Dorchester-born Court Surgeon and writer Frederick Treves, a lifelong friend from early youth; Dorset-born publisher and author Newman Flower, who befriended Hardy from about 1914 onwards, and once took him out on a picnic, and local composer Frederick Boyton Smith, who collaborated with Hardy in setting a number of his verses as songs. Also found wanting was the incidence of a visit to Max Gate by William Watkins, founder of the Society of Dorset Men in London, who died during the night after leaving Hardy that evening.

Thomas Hardy: Time-Torn Man comes as a two-inch thick, standard size hardback of 380 pages (not including another 105 pages of index and bibliography, etc).  At the front there is a reproduction of a map of Dorchester and district as a double-pagespread and, more centrally placed, 33 monochrome photographs and sketches in two insertions within the text. The text itself is arranged in three parts or sections based upon ranges of years, corresponding with childhood/youth, middle years and later years, from the earliest (1840) up to 1928.

Published by Penguin-Viking

Book Review – Tig’s Boys

Go to Book Reviews Category for news of the book.

Go to Book Reviews Category for news of the book.

Book Review – Tig’s Boys


Tig’s Boys
Letters to Sir from the Trenches

January 1901, the first full year of the 20th century, could rightly be called a milestone year in human history. That month, Queen Victoria and the great Italian composer Verdi died, leaving their respective countries in mourning. But that January also, a grammar school was opened in Bournemouth, then just beginning to expand its borders as a popular resort with a population that had then reached 60,000. The fifty-four boys who were the first pupils of the new grammar, besides their inspiring but severely disciplinarian headmaster, Dr Edward Fenwick, could hardly have imagined that, fourteen years later, those pupils would be pitched, out of a voluntary and patriotic sense of duty, into the bloodiest war the world had then yet seen.

The outbreak of the First World War on August 4th, 1914, inspired many young men to take up arms in what they believed was a just cause on behalf of the empire; but they were largely men already in employment or unemployed, with their schooldays behind them. However, senior boys close to leaving public schools old enough to join up were also inspired to do so, and the boys at Bournemouth grammar were no exception.

But these students did something more. During those terrible four years at the front, Fenwick’s boys, both those who would die and those who would return, maintained a constant correspondence with their beloved master. The re-discovery of these remarkable letters has lead David Hilliam to collate them into a 192-page paperback compilation.

Tig’s Boys is the product of that compilation. It charts in five main chapters reports from the boys on many aspects of day to day life – and death – in the trenches, in the Flying Corps and abroad in the Middle East theatre of war. Chapter five is a moving eulogy by Dr Fenwick on the 98 young Dorsetians from his school killed in action during the conflict. The letters themselves give, sometimes humorous but more often tragic, testimonies of service life, from billeting and blighty to trench-foot, lice, rats and “doing fatigues”; not to mention the outright terror of combat: the shells, machine-guns, snipers and heroic rescues under fire. Take for example the derring-do of Lieutenant H G Head, who describes in his letter on page 34 how he knocked out a German machine-gun post that was badly mauling his company, earning him the Military Cross. Or Private A C Stagg, who lay wounded and without food for 15 days in no-man’s-land before being rescued and treated (p83). The letters display great candour and devotion for the Headmaster who’s stern authority and dynamic energy earned him the pet name of Tig (short for Tiger).

Tig’s Boys opens with the traditional introduction, followed by a two-page timeline tabulating the major battles and other strategic developments throughout the war, then a prologue (Tig and his School) featuring an account of the development of the Grammar School from foundation to the outbreak of war. Centrally placed are 30 black-and-white plates of the headmaster, his former pupils, and war scenes. On the back pages are 1919 and 21st century epilogues, a short bibliography, index and two appendices, one being a month-by-month roll of honour for the dead, the second, a roll for those decorated for valour.

Tig’s Boys was published first by Spellmount, then in the present paperback format by The History Press (2011). It is £12.99.

We have posted a photo of the book cover in the photo section.