REFLECTIONS ON THE BATTLEFIELD
FROM INFANTRYMAN TO CHAPLAIN 1914-1919
By Robert J.Rider
Edited by Alan C. Robinson & P.E.H.Hair
Liverpool University Press 2001 - ISBN 0 85323 897 9
147pp - Paperback - 12 b/w illustrations
£17.95 [£44.95 in h/b]
Accounts of army chaplains in the First World War are not uncommon, and there have been some good anthologies of diaries and letters in recent years. However, what makes the author of this memoir unusual is that he in fact started the war as a private soldier and became a chaplain on being commissioned in 1917.
Robert Rider grew up in the south of England, and went to train as a Weslyian minister at the Handsworth Theological College in Birmingham. When war was declared in August 1914, he and several other college students joined the 1st Birmingham Pals battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and served on the Western Front from 1915. Rider fought through the unit's engagements at High Wood and Leuze Wood in 1916, and after being commissioned into the Army Chaplains Department, fought at Arras attached to a RFA brigade.
His memoirs were apparently started in the 1920s, possibly using a war time diary that does not now survive, and he at some time in the 1950s thought of publishing, but was put off - and it took nearly another fifty years before his work appeared in print.
The accounts of service at first appear a little strange, being written in the third person, but from research by the editors it does appear they are faithful to his own experiences. As such they offer a unique insight to a rare breed - an army chaplain who had seen combat as a foot soldier. The Somme chapters make particularly interesting reading. The whole text is introduced by a thirty-seven page introduction prepared by the editors, which makes a proper academic assessment of the work, and is to be welcomed; sadly this sort of treatment is all too rare with many memoirs.
A fascinating book which anyone with an interest in the Pals, army chaplains or indeed memoirs generally, should have on their shelves.
Copies are available direct from the publishers:
Liverpool University Press
4 Cambridge Street
Tel: 0151 794 2233/7