I survived – Review by Phil Hodges

Loveable: That’s how 4124 Private ‘Ginger’ Byrne came across in this book; after all it is his and based solely on his memoirs.

It’s the sort of tale that would have been heard up and down the country, grandchildren listening to their grandfathers stories of the trenches; stories that got bolder and more heroic each year depending on the listening audience. Stories wheeled out for Christmas Day heard time and time again until even the grandchildren stopped listening and started to mock the armchair warrior albeit in a friendly manner.

But ‘granddad’ never recovered. In his moments alone he’d sit in his chair and peer out the window, thinking of lost mates and near misses and the blood and the gore that seemed to come hand in hand with the horrors of the First World War. He’d sit, tears in his eyes and trembling, sometimes biting the back of his hand as he began to smell the fear, the cordite, the dampness. He’d see the flashes from the giant guns before his eyes again and the earth tear up throwing bodies with it.

Eventually, a peer towards the mantle piece and to the framed photos of his children; grandchildren and maybe his great children would bring him back to earth and to the crossword on his lap. Of course, he was a survivor. To his family they thought he felt relief. To the old soldier he felt guilt for having survived. That’s how this book reads.

With little or no interference from the author, Joy B Cave, it’s presented in the honest fashion that would benefit so many books on the same subject.

Charlie ‘Ginger’ Byrne records his memoirs, warts ‘n’ all and has no fear of telling the mundane and humorous along with the brave and horrific. From lice to nasty corporals, from bacon and dripping to the Chinese Labour Corps; Byrne crams It all in and leaves you educated and fascinated with details I have never had the privilege to have read before. It’s a non stop two day read at most so be prepared to carry it on the tube, at work, at the dinner table and in the bath (the annual bath for the WHO editor).

This is a true ‘soldiers tale’ quick paced, funny, sad and probably one of the best books I’ve picked up and read this year. For someone who reviews  a lot of books I don’t say that lightly!

To Ginger Byrne – God bless you. You survivedalrightmate.


Reviewed by Phil Hodges for War History Online

The Great War Reminiscences of Private ‘Ginger’ Byrne
Charlie Byrne and Joy M Cave
Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978-085052 292 1

Phil Hodges

Phil Hodges is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE