A Boy From Botwood by Bryan Davies and Andrew Traficante
A Boy From Botwood is the personal account of the World War One experiences of Private Arthur W. Manuel; a common soldier in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Born 1895 in the “impoverished rural village” of Botwood, Newfoundland, Canada, Arthur’s formal education ended in Grade Seven when he began working at a sawmill. He enlisted in 1914. Of the ten volunteers who’d joined with him, Arthur was one of three who survived toreturn home. He fought at Gallipoli (1915), Beaumont-Hamel (Somme July 1916) and Passchendaele (August 1917). A German prisoner of war, he was discharged in 1919. Arthur died in London, Ontario in 1984. During his life, Arthur refused to discuss the war. In 1980 and without anyone’s knowledge, however, he recorded his stories. By chance in 2011, his grandson, David Manual, discovered the tapes and transcripts in an unmarked shoebox. Arthur left no explanation as to his reasons for having done this. Though the authors’ verified hiscomments for accuracy and added valuable information to provide a framework for the book, they changed Arthur’s words little and hence, it is his story they have brought to life.
Through Arthur’s perspective, A Boy From Botwood details the grim conditions to which soldiers subjected, the horrors of trench warfare, the dreadful casualties incurred, the failures and incompetence of campaigns fought and the brutality of German labour camps.
I found this book incredibly emotional and have highlighted a few poignant examples.
This section in Chapter Four: Beaumont-Hamel, July 1916 on page forty-eight speaks to a solder-sniper:
“No special courage is required to shoot at someone who is already shooting at you and your friends, or who is coming at you with a bayonet. It is either his life or yours…….Having the head of some poor unsuspecting man or boy lined up in the sights of a powerful telescopic rifle,….Not only could it cause a sensitive, conscientious person to feel sick and dirty for days and weeks, it could haunt and torment him for as long as he lived.”
This section in Chapter Six: Passchendaele, August 1917 on page eighty-eight speaks to conditions in German labour camps:
“Nothing, unless in some way connected with food, has meaning. Not even the loss of a loved one or something as dreadful as a worldwide disaster would be drastic enough to take his mind from the constant and continual craving for something to eat….Starving, he thinks only of crusts of bread, fats, drippings, and all the precious scraps of food being thrown in the many garbage cans by the very fortunate people who prepared and cooked more than they could eat.”
And finally, I’d like to note Chapter Nine: Armistice, November 1918. Arthur addresses the difficulties soldiers confronted when discharged with respect to the lack of mental health services, the absence of programmes to ease integration, no government pensions or financial assistance as well as obstacles to finding work in the face of a changing employment sector complicated with mixed social attitudes.
The following quote about a discharged soldier from page one-hundred forty-six speaks to the effects of war:
Private Arthur W. Manuel has given us his version of certain events during and after World War One. A harrowing telling of a period in our collective history, it compels the reader to contemplate the purpose of war plus question why it continues to plague our world.