Runcorn and Widnes World
New Law Journal
Law Society Gazette
New Law Journal
New Law Journal
Everyday Lives in War
“A good read with a breezy style that made the intricate details easy to assimilate.”
“If you enjoy an experience that winds its way through some amazing thumbnails, looking over the shoulder of an author who obviously loves dabbling in the darker corners of archives, this is definitely a boot-filling experience.”
“… painstaking research of primary sources.”
“The contextual material in the book has been very carefully researched, with extensive use of fascinating tribunal minutes.”
“ … an extremely well-researched document.”
“The book has been written beautifully.”
“Hewitt’s is a colourful characterisation.”
“Joseph’s benign domestic existence … is evocatively described.”
“… by intertwining Joseph’s story with those of the men who had an influence on his life the author has shaped the background to the story of many a similar working class man during WW1. The author’s closing comments on parallels to modern tribunals are thought provoking.”
by A selection of reviews
Towards the end of ‘Joseph 1917’, the author David Hewitt says: “I would find it hard to say what sort of book this is. It certainly isn’t a biography...neither is it a military history of any kind...nor is this a warrior’s tale... [or] a legal history...”. To me, it (to an extent) all of these things, with some social history thrown in.
It isn’t a drama with an unexpected ending. We know very early in the story that the subject of the book – market gardener Joseph Blackburn from Thornton in Lancashire – dies in 1917, in the Great War. The drama (such as it is) revolves around how he ended up in the Army, facing the life-and-death lottery that was World War 1 trench warfare.
There is a little of Joseph’s family history, some social and local history (market gardening on the Fylde at the turn of the 20th Century), historical context (the lives of public figures of the time) and - most importantly – an exploration of the legal system of tribunals that exempted some men from the Army if they had jobs of national importance.
The background information is fascinating and David Hewitt applies breadth and depth of research to his themes. Occasionally the detail strays into irrelevance, but the author paints a detailed picture of a particular aspect of life during the Great War. Joseph’s fate is sealed by a Tribunal in London. We are drawn into the political and moral issues of sending men to the trenches – but it must be said that the public figures of the day who made these decisions (often Knights of the Realm, sometimes with double-barrelled names) are dealt with reasonably sympathetically. They were not immune; they too lost sons and nephews.
I learned something new. Despite a passing interest in the Great War, I had no knowledge of the process of the Tribunal system of the time. In addition to the legal matters, there are the moral and practical issues: recruiting, maintaining ‘normal’ day-to-day life, keeping the country fed. Despite the lack of detailed information about Joseph's family (or perhaps because of it) I found myself forming a visual image of Joseph, based on photographs of my own family who worked the land in Cheshire at that time.
Finally, the reader is encouraged to reflect on the author’s views on the question of ‘justice’ - then and now - based on his experiences as a present-day Tribunal Judge.
I would very much recommend this book to anyone with an interest in social history or the Great War or the way the judicial system deals with ordinary people at critical times in their lives.
David Hewitt is a lawyer and a writer.