Troubador Joseph, 1917

Released: 28/02/2017

ISBN: 9781785898976

Format: Paperback

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Joseph, 1917


Joseph didn’t want to go to war. He wasn’t a conscientious objector, but neither was he garlanded with battle honours. He resembles none of our burnished archetypes and he isn’t the sort of man books are normally written about. He fought only because a military tribunal forced him to. That tribunal sat in Westminster, many miles away, and it was led by the Marquess of Salisbury. The Westminster decision so enraged Joseph’s friends and neighbours that his own, local tribunal went on strike. Drawing on legal records and vibrant newspaper reports of the time, Joseph, 1917 raises an interesting question – if you put a man in harm’s way then realise you made a mistake, shouldn’t you at least try to make amends? The book also offers some thoughts on tribunals and the law they applied and about the different ways they let Joseph down. But it is also interested in the events and characters of the time and the strange story of the place Joseph called home. Joseph, 1917 is a book that is different in its subject and its scope from almost every other one published about the war and would serve as the perfect complement to those books. It combines several genres in which there is currently great interest – not only is it a military history, it is a life story and it contains a good deal of social history (and even genealogy) and legal and political history. It is likely to appeal not only to devotees of Richard Holmes, but also to people who enjoy Who Do You Think You Are? and The Secret History of My Family and to readers of History Today.

Runcorn and Widnes World

New Law Journal

Lancashire Telegraph

Lancashire Post

Law Society Gazette

Morning Star

Books Monthly



Family Tree

Prize Magazine

Solicitors Journal

New Law Journal

New Law Journal

Blackpool Gazette

Female First

The Brief

Everyday Lives in War

Lancaster University

“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.

by Gordon

David  Hewitt

David Hewitt is a lawyer and a writer.

David Hewitt
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