Review of “Time to remember”

Time to remember: the journal of Lance Sergeant William Webb, October 1914-January 1916, 2nd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment Seventh Division 1914-1918
by Gerald W. Buxton
published by Helion & Company, 2016
ISBN 978 1 910777 34 3
Hardback, 184pp, illustrated, no index
Cover price not stated but believed to be £25.

This book took my eye for two personal reasons. William Webb was born and lived just down the road from where I live; and he went on to serve in the first years of the Great War with a battalion that was in the same brigade as one I have studied for many years, the 1st South Staffords.

Up until January 1916 the book is largely a reproduction of Webb’s private journal, a diary in which he describes his life in a unit that saw much action after landing at Zeebrugge in early October 1914. As we might expect, he names many of his officers and comrades, records the smaller details that the operational records of a unit could not cover, and gives us a valuable insight into life as an NCO of a regular battalion. At the beginning of the book we come to  understand his personal and pre-1914 military background in a short but well-written introduction. Webb joined the army as a boy in 1894 and was a veteran of the Second Boer War, becoming an experienced and capable NCO by the time of the Great War. From the Warwick and Leamington Spa area, he married in 1905 and had children born at various stations that he battalion occupied in those years of peace. The book does not reveal (as does his service record, parts of which have survived) that he suffered from malaria from his time in warmer climates.

From early 1916 onwards Webb’s service record is a little more vague. He was appointed Band Sergeant before going to an Infantry Base Depot at Le Havre, where he was later made Orderly Room Sergeant. Web was medically downgraded to “Permanent Base” in December 1917 and appears to have spent the rest of the war at the depots. His journal ceases when he goes to Le Havre, Webb apparently having decided it was not worth writing as “nothing startling happens here”. What a pity. We are lucky to have so many diaries, journals and memoirs of men with fighting units – but very little similar coverage of the vital cogs of the machinery behind the lines. “Time to remember” takes us on to the end of the war by providing an outline history of the 2nd Royal Warwicks’, going as it did through the Somme, Third Ypres, and on to the campaign in Italy and the final successes in the Vittorio Veneto.

An interesting work, produced to the very high quality we have come to expect from Helion. There are a few typos; there are one or two oddities on the (otherwise very clear) maps, such as German strong-points appearing in 1914 when in reality they were not there until years later; and the use of the spelling of “Welch” for the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. But these are minor matters in what is otherwise a worthwhile book. Worth reading.