Published: 28/03/2015
ISBN: 9781784622077
Format: Paperback



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Letters from Gallipoli
by Robert Lee

'We shall be in our fatigues on Xmas day and not in our winter quarters as we had hoped.
We shall probably have a fairly easy day wherever we are unless Johnny Turk takes it into his
head to have a pop at us which would certainly break the monotony.'

These were the words that Private Bert Lee of the 7th Battalion Manchester Regiment wrote to his mother from the Gallipoli campaign on 15th December 1915.

Tragically for Bert and his family, 'Johnny Turk' did break the monotony and late in the evening of Christmas Day he was shot dead by a Turkish sniper. However, his letters home to his mother survived and they tell a moving tale of the optimism, discomforts, deprivations and camaraderie of the troops who fought in that ill-fated campaign.

Bert Lee’s great nephew, Robert Lee, discovered an old folder in his late father’s effects entitled 'Letters from the Dardanelles' together with a photo of Bert’s sad and lonely grave on the Gallipoli Peninsular. He decided that these remarkable documents should be made available to a wider audience, especially with the centenary of the campaign in 2015. Robert has spent a long time researching the Lee family to provide the background to these letters and this, his first book, is the result.

Bert Lee had a middle class background but elected to serve as a Private so his letters give an unusual perspective on life in the trenches. Letters from Gallipoli will make an excellent addition to any WWI enthusiast's collection, and an interesting read for any fans of military history.

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I absolutely loved this book. I couldn't put it down. The letters are beautifully written and give a heartbreaking insight into what these soldiers went through and why the families they left behind were so important to them. Although some details of fighting are withheld the description of the conditions under which they lived is vividly brought to life.
The author has enriched the letters with much background comment and detail, both military and domestic, sometimes relating it to present day values which makes it a fascinating read.
A book of War Letters with a difference. Highly recommended!

by Ros White


This book is totally absorbing. It has been published at an appropriate time, when there is so much attention in the media in general on the First World War. The juxtaposition of the awful conditions under which the author exists far from home in the trenches, and the deep affection he has for his mother, family and friends back in England make the reading experience extremely moving.
Since the book is also an historical document, I'm surprised it hasn't received more publicity. I shall be purchasing more copies as
excellent birthday gifts.

by John de Pear


This book is a little gem. You hear the voice of an ordinary soldier through his letters home to his mother. What shines out is the desire to stop those at home worrying. He says,‘… the most restful place is the firing line …’ There are no complaints, but the ‘goodies’ sent by family and friends do make a great difference to his morale and comfort in the trenches. He talks of how ‘serene’ and ‘in the pink’ he is, or soon will be. Bert Lee was an optimist, always finding something positive in whatever situation – trench or hospital or beach or ship. The ending is abrupt. The flow of letters is cut off, just as his life is cut off. One wonders if today’s society can produce such a person. By chance I was reading ‘The Long Shadow’ at the same time. The historian’s narrative was brought to life by the real voice of this Gallipoli soldier.

by Jim Mackison


The incidental detail in private letters can often capture a momentous time more vividly than crafted journalism or history. So it is with this collection.

And as much as the letters tell us about life on the way to and inside the war, they also draw a clear picture of the writer as a man. It is remarkable how Private Bert Lee sought to protect his family at home from anxiety about him. Time and again he takes care to embed his news in reassuring messages—good weather, good health, welcome care packages. This inconspicuous courage, so unselfish and humble, jolts the reader of a century later into a sharp realization of how manifestly personal values have changed.

A not insignificant merit of this book is its brevity. Robert Lee has skillfully edited to leave us with a fully representative but easily digested portrait. Much more than a tribute to a family member, this unsentimental but touching book is highly recommended.

by Patrick, North Carolina USA


This book is truly remarkable on two levels: it delivers an intensely gripping & moving first-hand account of day-to-day existence in the Gallipoli campaign; and it also provides a fascinating slice of military & social history. Bert's resolutely upbeat style, with continuing reassurances to loved ones at home that he's in the pink and all is 'serene', might lull the reader into thinking it was all rather a lark - were it not for the fleeting glimpses now and then of just how horrific it was in truth. Bert’s cheery description of ‘forty flies at least having a go' in the short time taken for jam to be raised from plate to mouth is particularly stomach-turning - and all the more so when we learn where the flies had previously been congregating.

The book left me with two nagging questions. First, to what extent did Bert succeed in his valiant attempts to shield those at home from the grim reality? And secondly, how on earth would today’s youth cope under similar circumstances? We will never know the answer to the one; I’m afraid it is easy to guess the answer to the other...

I can highly recommend this marvellous book.


by Julian Squire


This excellent book is highly recommended. The letters of Bert Lee to his mother provide a fresh perspective to the Gallipoli campaign. Why this educated, middle class man should choose to enlist as a private (rather than as an officer like his brother Jack) is an imponderable. But this does mean that the book provides a highly literate account of what life was like, not just at the front, but also on the voyage to the Dardanelles, and when in hospital with dysentery.

There are many books on the market that analyse the failed Gallipoli campaign, but none (as far as I know) which tell you, for example, the contents of parcels that a soldier has requested his family members send him.

Letters from Gallipoli is a must-read for those with not just a military interest in the First World War, but also in its sociology.

by KEVIN O'CONNOR, KAMPALA, UGANDA


 

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