The Reluctant Tommy by Ronald Skirth (Edited by Duncan Barrett) - review by Nigel Jones

Nigel Jones

‘Ordinary Scared Human Beings’

The Reluctant Tommy


Macmillan 455pp £16.99

The author of this memoir of the Great War, Ronald Skirth, died in 1977. He was an ordinary ranker, a man of the people rather than one of the public school subalterns who wrote most of the war memoirs. And, instead of accepting his place as a cog in the war’s great mincing machine, he revolted against it, condemning not just that war, but all wars. 

But when Skirth’s ‘revolt’ is examined more closely, problems arise. Primarily, no one knew about it. In the army, Skirth kept his objections to himself, only dropping hints of his disenchantment in his letters home to his fiancée, Ella. Skirth was no moral hero in the mould of

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