“This is the story of one man who served throughout the Great War, at the very front of the Fronts in the most brutal battles in history, and achieved that most astonishing feat of all – he survived. His name was George Matthew Richardson. He won the Military Medal and Bar and was nominated for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, yet was completely forgotten by his country, his clan, his hometown and – almost – his own family.”
Thus begins Geordie’s War, a new intertextual memoir from Alan Richardson, biographer of Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley and author of novels – On Winsley Hill, The Fat Git and most recently Dark Light. Fascinatingly, the book opens with an interesting foreword by rock-star, Sting, who willingly admits to an ongoing “mawkish fascination” with the First World War. Sting is also quick to recognise how the author manages to convey a very public war through his connection to a singular Private, thus personalising the experience with fresh insights:
“Richardson writes about his almost-forgotten grandfather in a way that makes him ours too, a kind of Everyman figure, and skilfully evokes his exploding world both at home in Northumberland and amid the carnage of Flanders.”
Geordie’s War is full of the wonderful wit and charm we’ve come to expect from Richardson, who deftly intersperses dark and lurid themes with moments of side-splitting humour. A lingering memory that starts with a grandfather’s watch commences a journey to the Western Front to offer what Richardson terms “A Plain Man’s Guide to the Great War.” Plain man he may be but ‘Wor Geordie’ is anything but your stock ‘pip-pip old chap’ representative British Soldier of the period – but a unique fighter from a one-of-a-kind subculture. Those with more than a tourist knowledge of England will know that Geordieland is not like the rest of of the country – but like a small nation unto itself. Geordies speak a peculiar non-rhotic dialect that even the nearest neighbours struggle to translate, one that the author occasionally lapses into while telling his story. The resultant biography is a must for Geordies everywhere or for those interested in the history of that particular cultural region. From the early Anglo Saxon settlers to the Jacobite rebellion to the Geordie Safety Lamps used by the local pitmen, Geordie’s War scintillates with over-the-top historical, cultural and regional resonances that will leave the reader longing for more.
Not just the biography of a single Geordie, or even the anthropological study of the regional group, Geordie’s War introduces the reader to the unique tribal bonds of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. As the original Geordies fought as mercenaries for the ancient Brythons against the Picts, it comes as no surprise that the Northumberland Fusiliers were naturally battle-hardened. Richardson deftly conveys the history of this unique infantry regiment, originally raised as the 5th Regiment of Foot in 1674, from their involvement in the Nine Years War up until World War One. He shows how the meritorious attributes of the regiment can be linked directly to the hard, austere conditions in the largely working-class North East of England – and that there is something hard-wired into the Geordie experience.
War as a metaphor is a longstanding literary and rhetorical trope but Richardson uses it to excellent and new effect while exploring the fifth deadliest conflict in world history. His story of a Geordie ‘Tommy’ places readers in a zigzagged trench with its firebays, traverses and duckboards, imploring them step up to the parapet and embrace the brutal realities of national memory. The war, with its entrenchment of both cultural habit and terror, becomes a metaphor for reclaiming one’s ancestry. Richardson combs the records, chases up leads, pieces together tenuous bits of information to try and substantiate the man he scarcely knew and a war he could never fathom. Grandfather’s broken watch illustrates how time ruptures, leaves gaps, separates opposing generations and stymies even the most ardent and willing seeker. A Geordie grandson is removed by both time and happenstance in the same way that the Great War alienated its survivors from normalcy upon their return. For the old soldier the loss of innocence is eternal and for us looking back the wounds of lost time never quite heal. ‘No Man’s Land’ becomes that place of ruptured origin and identity – where going ‘over the top’ is an act of will.
Haddaway an’ shite
Skylight Press is proud to publish Geordie’s War along with other fine works by Alan Richardson. The books is now available from various retail outlets such as Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or direct from the Skylight Press website.