Review of “We are all flourishing”

We are all flourishing: the letters and diary of Captain Walter J. J. Coats MC 1914-1919
edited by Jan Chojecki and Michael LoCicero
published by Helion & Company 2016
ISBN 978 1 911096 39 9
Hardback, 350 pages plus annex, bibliography and index; glossy paper, illustrated.

The centenary of the Great War seems to have teased many private papers, memoirs and diaries out of the drawers and cupboards and out into the public domain. “We are all flourishing” is among the best of them. Edited by Walter Coats’ great nephew and Helion’s commissioning editor, it stands the test as a valuable reference as well as a good and absorbing read.

Walter Coats served as a commissioned officer of the Territorial 9th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, the “Glasgow Highlanders”. “We are all flourishing” is a compilation from his numerous letters sent home from training at home and later from the battlefields of France and Flanders, woven with extracts from a “diary” that he wrote at a later date. It sits alongside Alec Weir’s 2005 work,”Come on Highlanders!” which is a history of the same battalion: Weir’s grandfather, the battalion’s RSM and later its Adjutant, would have known Walter Coats very well.

Coats wrote frequently and well. His letters are lively, informative and almost invariably optimistic and cheerful. He puts a brave face on the worst of times: the long marches through cold, pouring Flanders rain and the many little privations of front line service, as well as the terrible battles in which his battalion took part. “We are all flourishing” is a phrase he uses regularly. Perhaps conscious of the censor (although for the most part his letters were censored by fellow battalion officers) and of the feelings of his family, his coverage of the fighting is not as detailed as that of life outside the trenches and he stops short of gruesome description. His work is varied, for in addition to time as a platoon and company officer, he has spells as a Machine Gun officer and on attachment to brigade staff. His letters come thick and fast at first, especially during training in Scotland, but become less frequent as the war goes by.

Overall I enjoyed the book and learned much from it. One to keep on the shelf.

The editors have greatly added to the content by researching and commenting upon the background, life and often the death of many officers and men that Coats mentions in his letters.

The book is well illustrated with photographs, including a very interesting image that appeared in contemporary newspapers and in which Walter Coats is the un-named central figure, and has some simple and clear maps.

Buy it