Review of “With valour and distinction”

With valour and distinction: the actions of the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment 1914-1918
by Nigel Atter
published by Helion & Company in 2019
paperback ISBN 978 1 912866 24 3
total pages 254: main body 136 pages. Lengthy appendices, bibliography. Indexed. Illustrated.
cover price not stated. At time of review, selling in price range £13-£20.
Reviewed by Chris Baker.

Following his acclaimed work “In the shadow of Bois Hugo” which traces the 8th Lincolnshire Regiment in its first action of the war, Nigel Atter has moved on to produce a succinct history of the 2nd Leicesters. This pre-war unit of the British regular army had the unusual distinction of serving under a formation of the Indian Army throughout the Great War, seeing service in France, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria. I believe that it is the first published history of the battalion as such, although H. C. Wylly’s 1919 book covered the 1st and 2nd Battalions and Edward J. Thompson’s 1919 work “The Leicestershires beyond Baghdad” covered the latter part of the 1st Battalion’s war.

For a history of a battalion that saw such long and complex service, the main body of the book is short at just 136 pages. The clue is however in the sub-title, for it focuses on accounts of its specific actions and is written at a fairly high level in terms of detail of the events. It rarely delves down to company-level actions, for example, and leaves details of individuals largely to the appendices. The accounts draw upon the battalion’s war diary, the Official Histories and some personal diaries and accounts, are well explained and illustrated some some very good, clear maps. Although illustration by way of photographs is not profuse, those that have been included are very good with many being previously unpublished.

On my first flick through before reading, I spotted something that raised an eyebrow. This was a reference to 1 November 1914 and the battalion being at a place called Le Fanu where it had a number of men wounded by snipers. I know the area where the battalion was at the time very well, having written about it in a 1918 context, and have never heard of Le Fanu. An examination of the battalion’s war diary revealed all: it was actually a reference to Lieut. Roland Le Fanu, who was also sniped. If there is a moral to this tale at all, it is a reminder that even experienced historians using solid primary sources can be bamboozled by poor handwriting! And to be fair to the author it was the only such error that I came across.

The real work of  detail lies within the book’s appendices, which clearly indicate wider and deeper research. They include biographies of nine of the battalion’s officers and seven of the “other ranks” (although one is Kulbir Thapa VC of the 2/3rd Gurkha Rifles). Personally I would like to see more of these as they bring a unit to life. There is also the story of a man who was executed having been found guilty of desertion. A divisional order of battle provides details of the other units alongside which the battalion fought (and if I have one regret from this book is that it does not really touch upon its human relationships with the Sikh regiments of the same brigade); there is an illustrated listing of the memorials at home and overseas which commemorate the battalion’s dead; and a complete roll of honour giving the man’s details, date of death and place of burial or commemoration.

Overall, an excellent work of reference and a good tribute to an unsung battalion.

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Leicestershire Regiment