Anselm Kiefer


Seeing the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy just after reading Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest was quite an experience. The Second World War informs every pice of artwork on show, not just casting a shadow but engulfing everything in its blackness. This exhaustive (and exhausting) collection of the celebrated German artist’s work is an intense experience for the casual gallery goer looking for a mild diversion from Christmas shopping in London.

The show delivers room after room of powerful art, all on a big scale. Big in size and big in emotion, Kiefer is all about emotional impact, which is by and large dark and foreboding with the odd respite here and there. We see exquisite books packed with pencil drawing and watercolour, huge canvases with layer upon layer of paint, mud and god knows what. We have spectacular sculpture too thrown in for good measure.

Across all media there is a consistency of thought and spectacular execution from star-like diamonds embedded in dense back canvases to lead books whose pages turn and crumple like paper — the lead itself reclaimed from the roof of Frankfurt cathedral. The craft of the work is spellbinding too, often more convincing than the work itself at times. I was taken with his idea of using the original zinc baths that the Third Reich gave to every family to make submarine sculptures, depicting the loss of life underwater. Idea and craft working seamlessly together.

Time after time the holocaust surfaces in his work, burned into the artists’s consciousness, a palpable driving force behind much if his work if not all in some way. It got me thinking about how art deals with horrors on the magnitude seen in Germany and how the artist must feel responsible in some way to try to interpret what’s happened, not make sense of it, but to process it in some way to ensure it must never happen again.

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The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis

amis zone interest review

Before I read this book, the first question I asked is does the world need another holocaust book? The death camp Holocaust story has been told powerfully many, many times in film, book, stage and for me there has to be a very good reason to put the reader through it again. But after I’d read it, I had to re-appraise my view.

Firstly I have to say I found the The Zone of Interest one of the most brutal, empty, morally void, ambivalent and unflinching books we’ve ever read. At times this book was unreadable—in a good, bad way.

Amis is clearly a writer of real stature, a ‘proper’ author who uses words to massive effect (often ones I have to look up in a dictionary, so he must be proper). He’s that good. He perfectly captures the stark contrast between the captors and the captives – each suffering in their own way. I was reminded many times of Maus, a very different take on the holocaust but no less powerful.

I like at 1st how we didn’t know when the story was set. The picture gradually revealed itself, which usually frustrates but I enjoyed this reveal. Initially it could have been any time in history or the present day, which I’m sure was an intentional dramatic ploy.

The multi-voice narrative was bold, powerful and immersive. Confidently painting the darkest picture imaginable. Unusually, this was easy to navigate, displaying the author’s prowess. The impeccable research and exquisite German cultural detail sat alongside horribly accurate concentration camp atrocity. I felt the book laid bare the German psyche: the reasons, the impact, the retribution, the horrific fallout and consequences of their actions. Amis casts an unswerving eye on Germany as a whole and whether involved directly in the mass murder or not, everyone is guilty by implication.

The notes at the end of the book were most enlightening: the immersion and desire to understand what happened and the philosophical arguments that to somehow understand why it actually happened actually validated the actions. These discussions actually helped me to make some sense of the book.

There was of course a mini drama being played out against the harrowing backdrop: Hannah, Thompson and Doll’s complicated relationships seemed at first petty and pathetic, annoying details set against the enormity of industrialised death. It seemed horrifically banal. But in the final chapters, the bitter love story developed into an insightful filter by which we could observe and understand how Germany came to be like this and the dreadful outcome. The relationship was unexpectedly but satisfyingly resolved in the end, in a typically and brutal fashion, the long, icy fingers of the past creeping into the present.

This book made for a truly unenjoyable read: not in the sense that it was hard to read or that it was laborious prose, but because to turn each page was to unearth inhumanity. In the end I didn’t want to turn the pages but I felt compelled to. At times I felt hollowed out by it. There was no triumph of the human spirit to be had here. The atrocities were laid bare, responsibilities clearly handed out and the complicated aftermath only just beginning. Amis revels in the moral ambiguity of his characters, challenging the reader at every turn. At the heart of it were meticulously drawn characters – not sketches – but Leonardo-esque in their detail and accuracy.

I actually love reading history books about the Second World War: Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad and The Second World War are immense and immersive accounts of man’s inhumanity to man (both credited by Amis I noticed in this book). But for me personally, the veneer of factual history literature protects me from the grab you by the balls detail of a novel, where the writer has unfettered access to our imagination—the imagined more powerful than the actual, for once.

And yet his book digs deeper. Gets under the skin of the Third Reich, using the collective German psyche as a prism for their actions; gradually, imperceptibly becoming truly horrific. The book maps out the moral maze Germany faced: everyone implicated from locals turning a blind eye to grey snow and the stench to corporates like Bayer, who still exist today in our everyday lives, quietly making products like Alka Seltzer.

It’s not often I wheel out words like elegant, intense, powerful, truthful. But this book is all of these. I’m not sure it’s ‘fearless and original’ as the blurb describes (back to my earlier point about does the world need another book about the holocaust) but In The Zone of Interest demands the attention of the reader until the very last page and I’ve scored it high because the book held me in its vice-like grip to the very end.

Impossible to pick up, impossible to put down.


I’ve always liked Halloween.

When I was a kid, it wasn’t anywhere near as popular as it was these days. We’d get together, our little gang from the estate, tell scary stories on the steps of each others houses and frighten ourselves silly with stories of Chalkie White (local imaginary weirdo killer), missing children and persistent, peripatetic spectres in council houses. We’d hollow out turnips (oh for the luxury of soft pumpkins) and stay up far too late. And as the turnips started to smell nutty and cooked, the witching hour approached.

But still, over the years, it resonates. I’ve been fascinated with being scared and as such, through every horror phase: comics initially then the quite immersive books and then ultimately the movies. Each has built in me a fascination and fear of the supernatural that although seems somewhat diminished at my age, it still informs a lot of what I enjoy to this day.

So I got to thinking: what were my top five scary films?

After lots of discussion, both on and offline, here they are in classic reverse order…

What are yours?

5. The Exorcist

I mentioned horror books earlier, and the daddy of them all was William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. As an avid reader of horror and scifi as a teenager, this was the bad boy of them all. I seem to remember plucking up courage to read it after mum had put it down and after reading it, wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Books always leave a bigger impression with me (that imagination again) and this one was no exception. it was chock full of horribly visual and very realistic set pieces: the whole country seemed to be talking about how bad it was.

When the film came out I was too young to see it at the cinema and it took years for it to appear on old school video tape. I avoided it. I knew it was scary – I’d seen bad clips of Linda Blair doing horrifying things and I’d read the book so I knew what was coming. When I eventually summoned up the courage to watch it, it was part of an all night horror video session with me and my old mate Carl Milner. It was scheduled for a 2am slot (because we reckoned that’s when we’d be at our lowest ebb and therefore more susceptible to frights) coming right after Romero’s frankly unsettling Dawn of the Dead.

Suffice it to say we had the lights on and we made plenty of cups of tea when it got a bit much. It still has a hold of me even now – it was on tonight, but I wouldn’t watch it: there was something else on.

4. Blair Witch Project

It’s funny, when I got to thinking about the films that affected me at the time that I saw them, there weren’t many modern horror films. Oddly, when I saw Blair Witch at the cinema, I marvelled at the fake marketing campaign around it and enjoyed the thrill of one of the best ‘must see’ cinema events of recent times.

It was only when I first saw the film on a television, in a hotel room, a long way from home, that the full power of the film hit me. Made for the small screen, it really got to me – jittery, claustrophobic filming and the one hundred per cent believable scenario drew me in.

I looked around the empty American hotel room except for me and my imagination and again, my mind filled in all the gaps and made it way scarier than anyone could have made it. It builds and builds to an ordinary, horrific crescendo that genuinely chills you to the bone.

3. Alien

This film is not a traditional frightener in my books, I’ll come clean.

But the first time I saw it – the theatre was packed with tension. Word had got out about the ‘chestburster’ scene and people were nervous about it. Before that, the anxiety builds portentously and after that it’s pure adrenalin punctuated by moments of genuine horror. These days it’s been superseded by all manner of shockers but it’s the daddy of all monster movies for me.

Ridley Scott builds the tension beautifully and the genius is that we don’t see the monster until near the end — and even then we don’t really get to see it. Our minds work over time. I remember in the days before video, it took 8 viewings at the cinema to appreciate HR Gigers’s magnificent monster. And still it fascinates.

2. The Haunting

Of course, you’ll know that I mean the original Robert Wise version from 1963, not the shoddy remake. How can a film made the year I was born pack such a chilling punch? This film is all about what is not shown on the screen – the mind does all the work and as I write this a chill goes down my spine and goosebumps appear when I think of the door handles slowly turning and the wood of the doors bowing with supernatural pressure. The director skilfully lets our minds do all the work and modern directors should take note: scares are to be cultivated and not dropped in willy nilly. That’s the power of this film.

Not much else to say except don’t find yourself at home, on your own, with this film on the television. Turn it off and watch a re-run of Family Guy. Or Top of the Pops.

1. Halloween

The first 18 film I ever saw in the Odeon Cinema in Leeds has left a lasting impression. John Carpenter’s genre defining movie has it all: a relentless, demonic killer with supernatural overtones, middle America that looked like the promised land, plenty of gratuitous boob shots of babysitters and stacks and stacks of tension and shock value. The soundtrack was home-made electronica and brilliant – of its time and at the same time, timeless.

It’s lo-fi horror with the bad guy wearing a cheap mask (based on William Shatner, fact fans) and a boiler suit hunting down local suburban kids in small town America in what would become a staple scenario for years to come. Carpenter delivers a taut, edgy and to this day iconic movie full of memorably shocking scenes.

It still sends a chill up the spine: its knowing classic horror movie references and its cold, cold heart. Oh, and of course Michael Myers, who just won’t lie down. At least until the sequel, but that’s another less interesting story. Halloween is a classic — still unbeaten after all these years.

Geek Love by Catherine Dunne


There is something unsettling about a carnival, a freakshow.

Even in my relatively mundane West Yorkshire childhood, there was always something cool about when the ‘feast’ came to town. The feasties were travellers of dubious character and to be avoided. Of course there weren’t any freaks on show (most of them were the customers) but even then it was exciting and out of our usual experience, perhaps even a little bit dangerous.

I recently read and hugely enjoyed Ray Bradbury’s Something wicked this way comes, centred around a supernatural carnival that visits fifties mid west towns, seducing people, stealing souls. I think the travelling circus or carnival or midway or even a plain old carnie feast plays to our fear, excitement and ultimately fascination of the outsider. Our dull lives are shown to be lacking but for the fleeting visit of thrills and scares.

Geek Love takes the idea of a freak show and cranks it up to eleven with in your face thrills and chills. Dunn takes the perverse idea of biological manipulation to create the ultimate family of weirdos, each sibling taking the freak factor to the next level — I saw parallels with Nazi Germany playing God with human experimentation, as Al tried a new concoction of drugs on Lil to see if he could create the next headline act. In fact if there was a modern incarnation of this travelling circus of unease it would definitely have some kind of ‘Freak Factor’ feature with a Simon Cowell-esque take on what it really takes to be the top of the freaks.

Dunne carefully reveals the family in all its glorious physicality with eye-popping detailed description. There was no doubt in my mind who looked like what and how they all came about – well frankly it was absurd, comedic and actually very dark, at times disturbing: a trippy cross between the Addams Family, The Partridge Family and Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The author built the characters so solidly that we cared about the outcomes and the complexity of this ultimate dysfunctional family. The early days of the family cutely telling stories by the fire like a twisted Little House on the Prairie or better still, The Waltons, is in stark contrast to the empire of dirt they ultimately, unintentionally create.

As I write, the characters come tumbling onto the page and it’s at times like these that I’d be riffing on the family…Arty, the twins, Oly, Chick and how much Dunne made me care about what happened and what helped me make sense of the ending of the book. The crazy characters we meet along the way add a lush depth to the storytelling too, detailed case studies of oddness and weirdness, all looking pretty normal against the Binewski backdrop.

The book reminded me of an amphetamine-fuelled take on John Irvine, perhaps crossed with Tim Burton on acid. It’s bizarre, surreal and quite electric. All credit to Dunn though as we take each increasing level of disturbing activity in our collective stride. From the pinnacle of Arturism, a kind of amputee Moonie division to Miss Lick’s reverse plastic surgery, we were relentlessly pounded with outrageous themes that dared us to read on…

Yes, at times it was disturbing. And yes, at times I was properly shocked and had to close my mouth at the sheer oddness of it all.

But the language was unflinching and felt accurate, visceral, direct, the sledgehammer prose at times delivering knockout blows…but tender when it needed to be and patient when painting the picture.

Ultimately for me it’s a book about fitting in, examining what we mean about being normal and what it means to be an outsider. As a kid all I ever wanted to do was fit in — I was embarrassed by anything that made me stand out: my mum being too fat, our house looking too poor, and wearing the wrong type of parka (yeah…really). Central themes of surgically altering body shapes to look unattractive and biologically altering bodies to make them more entertaining are pretty hardcore and amongst the most challenging we’ve read.

But Dunne takes us on a journey that is moves at a clip (unpretentiously super easy to read), breezily taking us on a macabre road trip through the darkest heartland of America, holding up a mirror to my own ideas about self esteem, image, delighting in shocking my sensibilities but at the same time seducing me into feeling that really this is just a normal tale, about normal folk. Perhaps it’s me that’s weird??

The ending is like an episode from Tales from the Unexpected (as I suppose the whole Miss Lick exercise is, but no matter) and rather unsatisfyingly for me, Oly’s daughter never gets to know she is her mother.

But Dunn is merciless, and she was always going to be brutal with her ending of Oly’s life as she was with the Fabulon burning to the ground with all destroyed, burnt to a crisp and Arty cooked to a turn.



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Barcelona is really interesting city. On the surface it looks like a big, sprawling, modern Spanish city that has lots in common with Madrid, Valencia or Seville. But carefully scratch the surface and lots of hidden complexity comes into view.

The Spanish civil war casts a very long, silent shadow over the city. At the very centre of the battle between the government and the rebels, Barcelona wears its history quite lightly but it doesn’t take much for it’s passion and militancy to reach the surface. Wandering around the city recently on a book club trip, we embarked on an unofficial civil war walking tour that took in some of the key civil war locations in Barcelona. In truth, there is very little to see seventy years later. Where the socialist rebel headquarters once stood, there is now an Apple store and although the hotel that Orwell stayed at is still intact, the Ramblas it overlooks is a transformed from what it was in the thirties.

Barcelona is right at the centre of the debate for Catalonia independence from Spain. Proud Catalonians have fought for independence for many years and the recent Scottish independence vote in the UK was followed more closely by the Catalan media than in our country at first. The weekend we visited, there was an historic meeting of every mayor in Catalonia signing a memorandum backing the right to vote for independence. Feelings were running high with a noisy demonstration followed by a more stately and civilised official event. Time will tell if Catalonia gets its independence, but Spain eyes the economic powerhouse cautiously.

Manic tourist streets make way for tranquil passageways that, in turn, lead to peaceful squares. Cafes beckon and cool beers are sipped in frosted glasses. Shuttered windows silently survey the blissfully dark streets, designed to take the sting out of the fierce Catalonian summers. Cobbled streets and tiled hallways speak of the city’s history, the ever-present graffiti reminding the visitor it’s actually 2014.

In stark contrast is the museum of modern art. Angular and modernist the building sits alongside pan tiled rooftops and ancient battlements, seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the city. The collections are wilfully obscure and eclectic, challenging, constantly pushing the boundaries of acceptance. Whilst skateboarders noisily take advantage of the plaza outside, gallery visitors amble the airy walkways in an oasis of artistic nonsense.

Gaudi’s spectacularly unfinished magnum opus, La Sagrada Familia sits oddly in a residential district on the outskirts of the city like the unfinished remnant of an alien civilisation. It’s hands down the weirdest and most remarkable piece of architecture I’ve ever seen and never fails to move me. Gaudi died in the 1930s and his masterpiece is still far from finished, but testament to his wild imagination and feverish vision. The final touch will surely be an elaborate gold leaf kitchen sink on the highest spire.

But ultimately Barcelona charms. Its sheer scale dictates a district-led approach but if you stay around the gothic quarter as we did, you will be well served with masses of tapas or pixo options and cool bars on every back street. The city rewards the patient and serendipitous traveller; try not to plan too much and Barcelona will show you a completely different side.

Barcelona and the Boys Book Club


Over on Into the Orchard, fellow book club member Ian Street has done a wonderful job of describing the magical combination of people, place, book, weather and location that makes up our annual book club trip. Take a look… Barcelona and the Boys Book Club.

Roll of Honour

Every year, on our annual book club trip, we set ourselves a writing challenge. Based on a theme, anything can be submitted: short story, poem, haiku, novello or even a full blown book. Time usually dictates more modest submissions but it’s a massively enlightening process for me and always puts me in awe of the authors we read every month.

This year’s theme was Reliance and here is my submission.

Roll of Honour


To commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, a stunning piece of art has been growing steadily in the moat around the Tower of London. Blood swept lands and seas of red by Peter Cummins has been steadily evolving since the beginning of summer with blood red ceramic poppies seeping out of the windows of the tower, spilling in to the moat. Slowly spreading, like a pool of blood, it’s a moving sight.

As is the roll of honour. Every night, 200 names of fallen soldiers are read out in the gathering dusk, the names of brave men echoing against the ancient stone backdrop. The last post’s plaintive cry concludes the roll call of the remembered. We’ve been to see a few of these over the past months and when we discovered Dame Helen Mirren was reading the roll, we felt we had to go. It was, as usual, an emotionally spare reading. Unknown names to us, from another time, familiar regiments and surnames we all would recognise. I meditated on one soldier, born I assumed, near where I was born in West Yorkshire and served with a local regiment until he was killed at a young age.

I started to think about his life and what brought his name to be read out on this cold September night in London. And there was my inspiration for my Book Club reading task.

Roll of Honour 30 September 2014

Reader: Dame Helen Mirren, Last Post: Drummer McKenna

Gunner J Coddington, Royal Field Artillery

Corporal J Cockerell, Otago Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force

Private D Lowrie, Gordon Highlanders

Gunner C T Bradburn, Royal Field Artillery

Private D L Anderson, Canadian Infantry

Private W J Anderson, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Private A Bradley, Canadian Infantry

Private M Colgan, Canadian Infantry

Private R Henry, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Lance Corporal A Leacock, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Rifleman H Leacock, Royal Irish Rifles

Private J Lee, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Private R D Marshall, Cheshire Regiment

Private J King, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

Private W Lee, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Private R Lyle, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Private J McLean, Canadian Infantry

Gunner W C Vockins, Royal Field Artillery

Private B O Vockins, Royal Berkshire Regiment

Gunner S Round, Royal Garrison Artillery

Lance Corporal F L Flowers, New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Private T Walker, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers)

Private G E Howe, Hertfordshire Regiment

Lieutenant G G W Leary, Gloucestershire Regiment

Private A E Baskett, Middlesex Regiment

Sapper J E Graham, Royal Engineers

Private R Robinson, Yorkshire Regiment

Private J Matthews, Yorkshire Regiment

Private W M Ebsworth, Manchester Regiment

Lance Corporal W Green, Worcestershire Regiment

Private G E Myers, Northumberland Fusiliers

Private C R C Myers, Middlesex Regiment

Captain A Ball, Royal Flying Corps

Private C Petts, Bedfordshire Regiment

Lance Corporal T Holden, Highland Light Infantry

Private A W L Lovell, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)

Gunner R Ede, Royal Garrison Artillery

Second Lieutenant T H Riordan, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Second Lieutenant H W Coneybeare, Lincolnshire Regiment

Private E F Pigott, Royal Berkshire Regiment

Lance Bombardier E Clarke, Royal Field Artillery

Private A Lague, Royal Fusiliers

Corporal A McKerrow, King’s Own Scottish Borderers

Private A M Murray, Royal Scots

Able Seaman E Asher, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

Private F Wotton, Lincolnshire Regiment

Serjeant C Blythe, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Private D Sloan, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

Private R Sloan, Canadian Infantry

Private T Sloan, Scots Guards

Sapper W Sloan, Canadian Engineers

Private S H Passmore, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers)

Private C J Trowbridge, Inns of Court Officer Training Corps

Gunner C M Stevens, Royal Garrison Artillery

Private F E Roberts, Royal Berkshire Regiment

Lance Corporal J W Pyper, Royal Engineers

Private A R M Pond, Royal Fusiliers

Private B Nelson, Canadian Infantry

Private A B G Holloway, Wiltshire Regiment

Private T Hoare, Dorsetshire Regiment

Private S Griffin, Canadian Infantry

Private V F J Fry, Dorsetshire Regiment

Private A E Dyer, Grenadier Guards

Private D E J Cooper, 1st County of London Yeomanry (Middlesex Yeomanry)

Gunner C W Coles, Machine Gun Corps (Heavy Branch)

Lance Corporal R Cassidy, Northumberland Fusiliers

Private J L Carter, Wiltshire Regiment

Private G Carter, Dorsetshire Regiment

Corporal H H Brown, Dorsetshire Regiment

Rifleman J B Bullen, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles)

Private A W Beament, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)

Private J Angell, Dorsetshire Regiment

Private H P Angel, Dorsetshire Regiment

Private G Angell, Dorsetshire Regiment

Lance Corporal J R Allen, Scots Guards

Private F J Allen, Dorsetshire Regiment

Major C V Gould, Royal Field Artillery

Second Lieutenant L T Gribbell, Devonshire Regiment

Second Lieutenant G M Hume, Royal Engineers

Lieutenant E M Mansel-Pleydell, Dorsetshire Regiment

Lieutenant H G M Mansel-Pleydell, Dorsetshire Regiment

Lieutenant F L Northway, South African Mounted Rifles

Second Lieutenant N V Wallis, Cheshire Regiment

Captain T I W Wilson, Manchester Regiment

Serjeant J Orme, Manchester Regiment

Private E H Freestone, Machine Gun Corps (Infantry)

Company Serjeant Major F Fenne, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry

Rifleman H E Sutton, King’s Royal Rifle Corps

Lance Corporal A Westacott, Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Serjeant W R J Sutton, Middlesex Regiment

Lance Corporal R Jolley, Manchester Regiment

Private W Hunter, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)

Private W H Thompson, Middlesex Regiment

Mess Room Steward W J Welch, Mercantile Marine

Private C E Welch, Welsh Regiment

Gunner A Harris, Royal Field Artillery

Private W O Rowson, Canadian Infantry

Private J Burke, Lancashire Fusiliers

Private W McDonald, Seaforth Highlanders

Private W A Curtis, Suffolk Regiment

Private H B Davenport, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry

Private G McDonald, Cameron Highlanders

Private J P Metcalfe, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Private L Blackwell, South Staffordshire Regiment

Lance Corporal W H Millinship, South Wales Borderers

Private M Stevens, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Private L McBain, Gordon Highlanders

Gunner W C Rolison, Royal Field Artillery

Serjeant W B McNeill, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers)

Lance Corporal F Scutt, Royal Sussex Regiment

Second Lieutenant V H T Boyton, Royal Garrison Artillery

Private E G Bawden, Suffolk Regiment

Private W J Bone, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry

Gunner R Heron, Royal Garrison Artillery

Private H McEvoy, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Private W Johnson, Royal Fusiliers

Able Seaman R B Lucas, Royal Navy

Lance Corporal R M Robson, Durham Light Infantry

Gunner H Cranke, Royal Garrison Artillery

Private V C Elderkin, Canadian Infantry

Lance Corporal E F Down, Canadian Infantry

Sapper T Evans, Royal Engineers

Private W Kelly, Royal Irish Fusiliers

Private A J Jukes, Worcestershire Regiment

Private M H Dodd, Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Lieutenant Jerome Joseph  Fane De Salis, Middlesex Regiment

Second Lieutenant George Rodolph De Salis, Middlesex Regiment

Private J Flynn, Royal Irish Regiment

Private E M Couturier, Machine Gun Corps (Infantry)

Sapper A E Rawlings, Royal Engineers

Private W P Dutton, Worcestershire Regiment

Private E B Haigh, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Corporal Walter Fruin, Gloucestershire Regiment

Private S A Stephens, Gloucestershire Regiment

Rifleman W Lansdell, Rifle Brigade

Staff Serjeant C E Hill, Royal Army Medical Corps

Lieutenant A H Sturrock, Machine Gun Corps (Infantry)

Lieutenant P A C Sturrock, Royal Navy

Private R R Mitchell, Royal Army Medical Corps

Corporal W G Andrews, Bedfordshire Regiment

Private A Carnochan, Australian Infantry

Private P Revels, East Surrey Regiment

Private A F Clements, Gloucestershire Regiment

Rifleman T H Baker, Rifle Brigade

Serjeant W D Hayes, Middlesex Regiment

Rifleman A G Dimond, Rifle Brigade

Private W Bickerton, Worcestershire Regiment

Private S Higgins, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

Serjeant R T Lightley, Royal Engineers

Private W P Trodd, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)

Private E D Spencer, Scots Guards

Private F W James, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)

Private W James, Gloucestershire Regiment

Private A Howard, Lancashire Fusiliers

Private W H Drew, Gloucestershire Regiment

Private H Garner, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)

Private W Brundrett, Canadian Infantry

Second Lieutenant G F Brundrett, Cheshire Regiment

Gunner T J Hancock, Royal Garrison Artillery

Private W O Storey, Durham Light Infantry

Private R Mullin, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment)

Private F Morley, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment)

Second Lieutenant W L Pardey, South Lancashire Regiment

Corporal W J Gardiner, Irish Guards

Private W T Chidgey, Somerset Light Infantry

Private M Mulholland, Cheshire Regiment

Private W Jennings, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers)

Private L Wright, Durham Light Infantry

Private H Thornley, Lancashire Fusiliers

Private J H G Fryer, Essex Regiment

Lance Serjeant F G Leaney, London Regiment

Air Mechanic 3rd Class B H Wolfe, Royal Flying Corps

Private G J Youlton, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers)

Private D MacGregor, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers)

Private J Barnes, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Private H Briggs, Suffolk Regiment

Rifleman A Evans, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles)

Private A Callaway, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment)

Serjeant W Barlow, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)

Lieutenant Edward Gordon Abelson, Royal Marine Light Infantry

Rifleman H Richardson, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own)

I nearly missed out, you know. The war started in 1914 and every lad in the village joined up immediately. I was just 14 and I couldn’t get away with it —although don’t think for one minute I didn’t try.

Everyone was at it, the lads growing their skimpy taches, slicking their hair back, trying to convince the enthusiastic but cautious recruitment officers they were over eighteen. The good ones sent us packing, spotting our teenage con tricks immediately. At the time, we never thought they were doing their job properly, they were just tight bastards to us. But we never gave it a second thought, it was all a game, an adventure, we were there and at the beginning of the war, but plenty of us got the nod don’t you worry. Later on in the war, when we tried the same tricks, they would send the young ‘uns packing, royally cheesed off. By 1917, with the war taking its terrible toll, we realised why they were being so choosy.

Full of it, the successful lads paraded around the taproom of the Railway Arms, waving their papers. The men eyed up the crumpled ivory paper in the tobacco fug with a mixture of bravado and guilt, egging each other on. We’d not seen anything like it, nobody had in our generation, even the old boys remarked on it. . Even the womenfolk, who usually kept their counsel. Underneath, we were all scared and no-one would admit it, men or women.

All the men in our village recruited into The West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’ Own, no less). There was a lot of pride in that old regiment too. We’d all heard of the Leeds Pals and the Manchester Pals and there was a right competition as to how many could sign up at first. I reckon that’s what drove the joining frenzy (as me mam called it). Dad was a farm worker then and too old to try his hand but he had plenty of near miss stories from the Crimea when he was a lad and that only drove us on further. He was a young lad when he served and he reckoned he was there for the Charge of the Light Brigade: flashing steel, mad eyed men and horses shrieking — we all loved to believe him but his stories seemed like from another time.

War was here though, now and of a completely different kind: mechanised, methodical, lads went off and never came back. Those that did were local heroes, damaged and back in the humdrum world of West Yorkshire, unable to talk of their experience. But the thirst for recruits was insatiable and as we all got to the right age, off we went — but you couldn’t stop us, no way.

I was too young to know who I really loved back then. Of course I loved me mam. She looked out for me and had my best interests at heart but me dad was too distant from me and I really couldn’t say whether he loved me or I loved him. Bit of a mystery, really but that was the way it was then. I liked girls, but not in the way that the other lads did. Obviously I didn’t say anything about this to anybody and, looking back on it, I thought it would sort itself out, but it never did. It was our way of doing things, never really tackling things, just brushing them under the carpet.

My biggest regret is never telling the truth to my best friend about how I truly felt about him, but I’m not sure what I would say and what he would think. These were thoughts that had to stay in my mind I think. We were close mates, sharing everything including signing up papers, first cigarettes and genuine excitement about where we were posted. If I said what I really felt, the whole world would change and there was enough going on already without me making it worse.

But I’ve always been a glass half full chap. Mam always used to say that would lead me astray (I disagreed with her dour outlook) why not look on the bright side? Too much gloom already in our Northern town I would say, she would chasten and remind me of our place, I would think of the future and what generations on would think, us Northerners getting above ourselves, being all optimistic and that.

I once saw a dead body. Me dad had a labourer called John Johnson who helped out on the farm during the summer. He was a big lad: brown, strapping arms offset against his white vest, always with a grey flannel cap, moulded to his balding had. Near midsummer, he didn’t turn up for work one day and dad went berserk. Lots of work to do, all that. Eventually, we found the poor soul slumped at the edge of a field, peacefully reviewing the work to be done from his deathly repaste. The first of many was old John. It wasn’t frightening: he’d just gone.

On my first stint in the trenches at Passchendaele, I saw a ghost. I was the new boy along with a whole gang of green lads and we’d been given the night watch. All the serious action happened during the days but the night times were the worst: empty with too much time to think. This particular winter night was horribly quiet and chilled me to the bone. Early January always brought mist and clear skies and an unusual calm to the trenches. I acknowledged a cheerful officer around midnight, who, reminding me of my responsibilities to my fellow men, clumped along the planks, whistling The Rose of No Man’s Land. Gives me goose pimples to recount this tale as I’ve since discovered the dear fellow was killed over a year ago and has been seen by many on the night watch.

The one thing in the trenches that I struggle with is the language. It’s effing this and effing that. I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a swearer but when it comes down to it, I’m not very good at it. I’ve discovered though, it does help in the face of life and death to be able to speak your mind. This is an area for personal improvement — we are after all dealing with life and death and if we can’t shoot AND curse the enemy then what is actually the point of this conflict?

Although mam cried when I marched off on 27th November 1917, I didn’t. I’ll admit I wasn’t quite the enthusiastic war goer I was underage at the beginning of the war and I was ready for a bit of action. Mam had seen plenty of the local men go (and not come back) and at this point in the war, I could even have avoided it. But my determination to play my part, after all these years was too strong.

I’ve done plenty of crying since then of course. Not over some half-baked idea of a West Yorkshire village, but the lads who’ve died beside me. Tears shed for chaps I didn’t really know, my brothers, burned me more than anything in my life. It’s funny but once you’re here, all notions of home vanish and it’s all about getting through it and actually even finishing it.

Since you ask, I last cried on Thursday 29th January 1918. The West Yorkshire Brigade was due a big offensive (‘one last push to finish the war, which was due anytime soon’) – the whole shooting match, the 62nd Division and the 2nd West Riding Division, a right old carry on. All the boys from Imphal Barracks York would be here, in these sodden fields, a long way from Yorkshire. A long way from home.

It was a big old push, early start, little sleep. We huddled together against the mud walls, nerves jangling, the stink of the mud at once familiar and homely. In January, your kit never really dries out but you get used to the feeling of warm, wet insulation against your skin. Dry is a luxury. We’ve seen plenty of these pushes: the lads at front torn to shreds, the ones at the back survive to see another day, blind to risk and danger. There is no use trying to second guess fate: I’ve seen lads at front, middle and back killed. We just form an orderly line and get on with it.

I got to thinking about God, like you do.

Mam and Dad had always believed and we’d always gone to church as kids in the village. The vicar peddled a credible tale or two and most folk bought it: I hedged my bets, back then when the only pressing prayer was for an ailing aunt or some decent weather for the crops. But now, in the trenches, with shells pounding overhead, if there was a God, then now’s the time Lord to show your hand. I have never been a pious soul (forgive me mam, but she knows) but right then I thought about John Johnson’s lifeless from in the field in West Yorkshire, devoid of divine attention, like so many brothers before me.

We all piled over the top on the whistle and those of us lucky enough not to be on the front line ran like crazy to make to first holes. Men fell all around, bullets whistled and lumps of flesh flapped in the air. Some men fell to the floor thinking this would save them but they were easily picked off by the German machine guns. I was oddly calm whilst this was going on, running hard in the midst of the carnage was quite liberating, eyes closed, expecting death any minute, the smell of cordite sour in my nostrils.

Rifleman H Richardson

West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’ Own)

 Killed 30th January 1918

Aged 18

They shall not grow old as we grow old

Age will not weary them or the years condemn

At the going down of the sun,

We will remember them

My iPod


It was with more than a tinge of regret that I learnt Apple had quietly cast aside the iPod classic in it’s most recent round of new product announcements. Burying the news in a slew of watch and phone innovation, the iPod classic was no more. It’s iconic scroll wheel design has dominated digital music since 200, the ergonomically beautiful way to access my music collection.

It’s easy to forget how revolutionary it all was back in the day when the iPod was first launched. Your entire music collection, all in this tiny white and silver box.

It’s all about streaming in the cloud these days (that’s when you’ve got a very good connection that is) and the trend towards not having the physical tunes is rapidly diminishing in the mainstream. Nobody really wants the stuff any more. It’s strangely a version of the conversation we all had about ten years ago when we wrung our hands and shed a tear for the CD and replaced those unloveable bits of plastic for digital — the difference being of course, CDs were so expensive in comparison to the virtually free music of today. We’d all spent a fortune amassing roomfuls of useless shiny disks in jewel cases, only to have them replaced by binary code.

The iPod has been my music companion for well over ten years, accompanying me everywhere, delivering tunes from a fag packet sized box that got smaller in size and progressively  larger in terms of capacity, not to mention cheaper. Hours would be spent at the computer compiling playlists for holidays becoming soundtracks for key moments in our lives — iTunes became my garden shed, a refuge and relaxing place to go. Family holidays in Cornwall had their own back to back, seamless playlist of music, seared into our subconscious so much so that certain songs still remind the kids of weeks spent in the sun under canvas.

The early chunkiness of the design made way for a sleeker design with nanos, minis, classics all demanding my loyalty and admiration, all finding their place in my life. I bet I’ve owned around ten different iPods, all now sleeping in drawers and boxes, some not working, others gamely still batting on after a few hours charge.

I managed to buy a new iPod classic a few weeks ago, just before Apple knocked the range on the head. My old silver classic was showing its age: it reluctantly synced with the new OS and held on to all manner of quirks as a result. The new iPod is quick and slick by comparison, with little reference to the new industrial design of Apple save the black anodised case. I could have opted for a Touch but I’ve never seen the point of it, it just looked too much like the iPhone for me, plus I loved the memory on the classic —the only device with enough space to hold my entire music collection.

I guess it made sense in Cupertino to ditch the iPod. Super fast wireless everywhere, delivering lightning connections through big fat pipes, there’s clearly no need for a unit containing ACTUAL digital files. Transfer 4,000 miles to England however and travel from Leeds to London on the East Coast mainline, then see where your Cloud gets you. It’s the same story across the country too…streaming is great when there’s a proper internet connection or good 4G. When that’s not available, then who you gonna call? You got it, iPod.

The idea of having just one device with everything on it is great. I’ve even espoused this mantra many times to those who would listen, but I’ve changed my mind. I like the old school comforts of the iPod and I like to keep my delicate and twitchy iPhone clear of actual songs to free up the memory that seems to fill with anything and everything, for fun. There may even be a trend back to having multiple devices that are really good at what they do. If there is, then I’m an evangelist.

In the meantime, I’ll scroll and click, with no delay, accessing all of my tunes, whenever I like regardless of connectivity. But one day my iPhone will die and there will be no way of replacing it and that will be a very sad day indeed.