THE HALF-SHILLING CURATE: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF WAR AND FAITH, 1914-1918, by Sarah Reay. Published by Helion and Company Ltd (www.helion.co.uk). £25. Hardback.

AFFECTIONATELY known by his family as the ‘Half-Shilling Curate’, the Rev Herbert Butler Cowl is the subject of a book written by his granddaughter which tells the very personal story of his First World War experiences from Christmas Eve 1914 to the end of hostilities.
Drawing on the chaplain’s own personal writings and letters – all of which he signed ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’ – the author recalls the life of a man who volunteered at the outbreak of war to become a Wesleyan army chaplain. It follows Herbert’s journey with the Durham Light Infantry from his service at the Army Home Camp in Aldershot to the adventure and reality of Flanders on the Western Front near Armentières.
While serving at the front, his campaign was cut short when he suffered severe throat and facial wounds during a heavy enemy bombardment. During his journey back to England the hospital ship carrying him, HMHS Anglia, hit a German mine in the English Channel just four miles from Dover and as a result of Herbert’s actions on that fateful day he became one of the first Wesleyan army chaplains to receive the Military Cross.
Despite being wounded by the explosion, he dragged four buoyant life rafts across the ship’s deck and dropped them into the sea to save the lives of soldiers who were close to drowning. Then, as the stricken ship sank, he gave his own life jacket to a soldier, jumped into the sea and managed to swim to a small raft before being rescued by a patrol boat.


THE SOMME 1916: THE FIRST OF JULY, by Ed Skelding. Published by Pen and Sword Books (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk). £25. Hardback.

A COMPANION volume to the Walking the Western Front series of DVDs, this book takes the reader on a photographic journey made by a Newcastle-based military historian and film-maker across the battlefields of the Somme in the Picardy region of northern France.
Ed Skelding has researched and filmed these battlefields while making many broadcast documentaries over the past 25 years, bringing together his research notes, personal recollections and many photographs of the locations where the crucial actions of the first of July were played out.
On that fateful day in 1916, along a 13-mile front, men – many of whom were part of Lord Kitchener’s volunteer army, including the Pals’ battalions – advanced into a maelstrom of rifle, machine gun and artillery fire that would leave 19,470 of them dead with another 35,493 wounded or missing.
It was an offensive designed to break through the German lines, but at the end of the battle four and a half months later no clear-cut victory could be claimed by either side. After 142 days of fighting both armies had suffered more than one million casualties.
A chapter on the fighting around the village of Thiepval recalls the action involving the 16th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers Tyneside Commercials – blue-collar workers drawn from Newcastle city and the factories and heavy industries that lined the banks of the Tyne. Among their ranks were Private Tommy Goodwill and Corporal Dan Dunglinson, both players with Newcastle United FC.
When the whistles blew to order the men forward, the Commercials’ attack began with a football being kicked into no-man’s-land by Tommy Goodwill. He was one of the first men to go ‘over the top’ but died in the battle – the only senior Newcastle United first team player to be lost in the war.