THIS collection of letters Captain George Roberston, 21st (Service) Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, sent to his family from his training days in England to his time on the Front at the Battle of the Somme give a clear and moving insight into life in the army between 1915 and 1916. He volunteered at a time when the majority of men who became officers were from the gentry but due to the high demand for more men, many men like George from more lowly backgrounds were given temporary commissions and became known as ‘temporary gentlemen’.
A clerical worker who lived with his wife and two children in Gateshead, George was 22 years old when he joined the Fusiliers, and from January 1916 he led his men through months of bitter trench warfare for several months until he was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper on July 1 that year. In his last letter, written on June 27, he wrote: “I go into the fight on Thursday. Death for me has no terror. I like the words of Ogden, who said ‘Better a dead hero than a living coward’.