Daring all things: the autobiography of George Kendall (1881-1961)
published by Helion & Company, 2016
ISBN 978 1 911096 62 7
Hardback. 208pp. Not illustrated. No index.
Reviewed by Chris Baker
Written shortly before George Kendall died, his autobiography reveals a fascinating life of service and personal development. From humble Yorkshire beginnings and an early career in industry and commerce, he studied and became a minister of the Methodist church in 1906. During the years before the Great War he was moved around a variety of placements in Lincolnshire, Scotland and Windsor. The story is absorbing: we learn of many people, events in his life and the activity of the days. Kendall uses rather flowery descriptive language at times, certainly by today’s standards, but it is nonetheless highly readable. He was evidently a likeable, diligent man who was doing well in his chosen path.
Volunteering for service as a Chaplain to the Forces in 1915, he commenced what turned out to be a lifelong connection with the military services. He describes a succession of postings, each bringing its own challenges and opportunities: at the Le Havre base in France; with 12th and 22 Divisions (going briefly to Salonika with the latter); on a hospital ship; to Ireland with the 59th Division, rushed there to counter the Easter Rising of 1916; 38th and 50th Divisions in France; then to 17th Brigade Royal Garrison Artillery. Kendall also goes to Germany with the Army of Occupation. As we might expect he organises and carries out religious ceremonies of various kinds, brings succour to the wounded and sick, and buries too many good men. But his war is more than this: he organises concerts and other forms of recreation; meets with many of the great and the unknown. The names and places mentioned are legion: what a pity that the book includes no index!
Perhaps the most unusual and interesting period is that when he was working with the army and Imperial War Graves Commission in 1920-21, taking part in the huge task of battlefield clearance, exhumation and reburial of those who had died across a very wide swathe of France and Belgium. He also played part in the process of selection, transport and reverential burial of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey.
The autobiography goes on to cover his role at home (in London) on post-war years and his return to military service with the Territorials and RAF Balloon Command in WW2.
His story was written many years after the events, and in places the details appear to have blurred. For example he describes being with Major-General Frederick Wing and in the same shell explosion in which the latter was fatally wounded in the Battle of Loos: but he also describes burying Wing at Vermelles when it was in fact some distance away at Noeux-les-Mines. Minor things perhaps but they introduce a note of caution as far as the reader is concerned.
Overall a most interesting work and well worth reading.