The Bootlace Boys – Eric Collinson

This book was the choice of my book club, the author was a friend of one of our members. We had read some First World War fiction already this year and wanted to broaden our horizons a bit more, which is why we chose this book. There was probably a lot of expectation on our part and the worry that we did not want to upset our friend or the author who kindly joined us for the discussion.

Our fears were unfounded, this is a book which is based on the authors real relatives, although certain events have been changed to fit and characters slightly altered. However, it is fundamentally a fictional story, based on a lot of research and the author giving people a voice about a group of miners in Durham who enlist in the Durham Light Infantry and find themselves transported into the reality and bloodshed of one of the battles of the First World War.

You get to meet Ted a coal miner and you follow him through his childhood, into a marriage with Bertha and subsequently into battle. Of course you learn a lot about Ted but you also get to know the way the mining villages work, how the mines and the mine owners were treating their workers and the strength that was created from working with the same people, living in close proximity to them and then going off to fight with them as well. This was a community which was not going to let anything divide it.

I learnt a lot and I was thrilled to get a glimpse into these lives. All the time as I was reading, I knew what was coming. I had prior knowledge, they did not. War was coming. And very interestingly war comes in the last quarter of the book and even then it is if we are waiting for the horrors that Ted and his fellow soldiers, friends and colleagues are going to either witness or be apart of. The horrors came, and whilst the truth might not make pleasant reading I feel it is important that so many know what happened. We can only know through books like this.

It is rich in its descriptions and I did struggle a bit to begin with as it was leaving very little to my imagination, but actually once I got into the style of writing around about the same time Ted and Bertha had settled into marriage I was with the book right to the end.

A book that is the result of a lot of research and a great passion to tell a story which should be read by anyone interested in the First World War.

It was great to meet the author and also it inspired me to look at the records available for some of my relatives who were in the War as well. It reminded me why I loved my history degree and how research can take over. As of yet though I have not written a book. 

I am not sure if I can get the author to our book group for the next book in 2015.