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Tribute to a symbol of war's 'ordinary' soldiers
Documenting the story of her great uncle, an ordinary Yorkshireman who fought and died in the First World War, has been a decade's work for author Susan Laffey.
The result of this labour of love, Jack Garbutt: The Bilsdale Bombardier, was recently launched in the soldier's titular hometown near Stokesley in North Yorkshire.
This sort of local history book is not uncommon. What makes this one different, however, is the amount of detailed information logged in its eight chapters.
It starts off as a history of the Garbutt family in Bilsdale then focuses on what was thought of at the time as the great adventure', the First World War.
Jack Garbutt was a farm labourer, without education, who briefly became a policeman before enlisting in the Royal Field Artillery in August 1914. "Sadly, at the age of 22, after surviving the horrors of the Somme, Passchendaele, without injury for three-and-a-half years, and after travelling over 750 miles around northern France and Belgium, his luck ran out," his great niece writes.
But wait, why did she embark on this book in the first place if there were no heroic tales of derring-do to relate?
In a brief introduction she explains. "Jack's story is a reflection of what was happening all over the nation; young men were removed from their own locality to environments and conditions never before imagined and still barely believable. That any of these men survived, we can be surprised; that so many died is shocking.
"As the 90th anniversary of the Armistice approaches it is fitting that Jack's story is preserved in this book. He is not famous, nor is he distinguished, but he is a symbol of all the ordinary men from Bilsdale and around the world who did their bit when the call came."
That is well said. So how did Jack Garbutt die? After the family received notification from the Army that on March 21, 1918, he was reported missing, believed dead, his sister Gladys wrote to the Army authorities in France requesting more information.
On May 22, 1918, she got a reply from Second Lieutenant Frank W Pearse. Jack Garbutt and another Bombadier were his acting Non-Commissioned Officers in charge of six wagons taking shells to the British guns. He wrote that they came under enemy fire from heavy calibre German guns.
He went on: "One of the drivers and two of the horses of the leading team were wounded and my horse was badly wounded also. I got the leading wagon out of the way and ordered the remaining wagons to proceed. I then shot my horse and caught, after some difficulty, one that was riderless "When we got to a sunken point in the road, more or less under cover, I ascertained that both my NCOs were missing. I assumed that your brother had fallen from his horse and would, in due course, report at the wagon lines. The place in question soon fell into enemy hands and if he was hit and survived, the enemy would have, no doubt, informed our Government through the usual channels. As up to now the division has heard nothing. I fear (and with this the commanding officer agrees) that he must have been killed"
The author records that from the start of the war 4,970,902 men from the British Isles enlisted, of whom 704,803 were killed. Of the 41 men from Bilsdale, 14 were killed, including Bombardier Jack.
As an object, the book is a fine example of craftsmanship: printing that's easy on the eye, a good layout and the spine is stitched and glued. These days perfect binding, as it's called, is rare, especially in small presses.
This is only the second book published by Otley-based Waltersgill Photography and Publishing, whichwas set up last year by former bookbinder Daniel J Walters.