The Reluctant Tommy

An Extraordinary Memoir of the First World War

3.73 based on 30 ratings & 2 reviews on

In the First World War, Ronald Skirth was an ordinary tommy. His experiences were like those of many others, save in one thing. When Skirth went out into No Man's Land after Passchendaele and saw the dead body of a teenaged German soldier, he resolved that he would never again help to take a human life. Making use of Ronald Skirth's letters and postcards to his sweetheart, Ella, his contemporary journals and the memoir he wrote in his retirement fifty years later, The Reluctant Tommy is the fascinating story of a man who stuck by his principles in impossible circumstances. With a foreword from Jon Snow, and now repackaged for paperback, it is an new classic of the war memoir genre; the tale of an ordinary soldier with a truly remarkable story.

'Different from the hundreds of other memoirs about the Great War ...What he has to say was hard come by and should be heard' Daily Mail

'Superb' Daily Telegraph

'An important contribution to the literature of the war ... whenever I get too misty-eyed about officer-man relationships I shall reread it to remind me of how badly things could go wrong.' Richard Holmes, Evening Standard

About Ronald Skirth

Ronald Skirth was born in 1897. When he left home to fight in the First World War he was nineteen years old. He served on the Western and Italian fronts, returning home in 1919 after the war had ended. He married his teenage sweetheart Ella in 1924 and their daughter Jean was born five years later. Skirth worked as a teacher until his retirement in 1958 and in 1971 set to work on what was intended to be a brief account of his early romance with Ella, their separation by war and their reunion two years later. In the intervening fifty-three years he had never spoken of his war experiences and as he wrote they soon began to get the better of him. He filled hundreds of pages with his handwritten account, plus the postcards, letters and documents which he had kept for more than half a century. The resulting memoir, on which The Reluctant Tommy, published by Macmillan in 2010, is based, was donated to the Imperial War Museum by his daughter Jean after his death in 1977.

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