A couple of weeks ago I had an email from Short Books asking if I'd like a copy of a book about a doctor in the first world war, it would be full of previously unpublished photographs and promised to be an illuminating look at the first months of the war. I gave it some thought and said yes, it duly turned up about 10 days ago, since when I've been so busy that I've not had much time to pick it up - but today feels like the right time to talk about it even if I've only skimmed through the book so far.
The first world war might be drifting further into history but it shows no sign of losing it's grip on our collective imaginations, perhaps this is precisely because we can see it in photographs and on film as well as the very real possibility of there being letters and memento's still around peoples houses. (A digression here, but one of the most moving things I ever found was a newspaper clipping from The Times announcing victory at Waterloo, it was in an old tin box which was mostly full of social reports about village fetes and weddings, it's more than 20 years since I saw that piece of paper but I still wonder who it was so important to and why.)
The Fred of the title was Fred Davidson, a 25 year old doctor from Montrose who set off for France with the 1st Cameronians in 1914, he was Andrew Davidson's grandfather. The two never knew each other, Fred died two days after Andrew was born, but he left behind 3 photographic albums comprising some 250 pictures taken by himself and his friends. These are all the more remarkable given that photography was strictly forbidden in case anything useful fell into enemy hands, it seems that rules weren't something the Cameronians felt particularly strongly about though as several of them took cameras out with them and kept diaries (also forbidden).
The book is a reconstruction of Fred's time at the front put together (I'm partly assuming here because I haven't read much of the book yet) from letters, diaries, reports, and any other eye witness accounts available. As Andrew Davidson points out one of the reasons the pictures are so interesting is because these are the things that Fred and his comrades wanted to remember and thought worth marking. There are a lot of pictures of people playing golf.
For anyone with an interest in the first world war this is undoubtedly a book worth looking out for, I'm curious to see how my impression of the pictures - which I've spent quite a bit of time leafing through - matches with the text which I've only skimmed.