It’s my turn on the BlogTour A Hundred Years to Arras by J.M. Cobley.
About the Author
J. M. Cobley was born in Devon of Welsh parents and now lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughter. Jason studied English Language and Literature at university and is currently Head Teacher at a hospital school in Coventry.
Jason is otherwise known for his work writing scripts for the long-running Commando comic and graphic novel adaptations of classics such as Frankenstein and An Inspector Calls, as well as the children’s novel The Legend of Tom Hickathrift. Jason also hosts a weekly show on Radio Abbey in Kenilworth, where he indulges his passion for classic and progressive rock. The central character of A Hundred Years to Arras is based on his relative Robert Gooding Henson. Follow @JasonMCobley on Twitter, Visit jmcobley.wordpress.com
About the book
On a painful, freezing Easter Monday in 1917, Private Robert Gooding Henson of the Somerset Light Infantry is launched into the Battle of Arras. Robert is twenty-three years old, a farmer’s boy from Somerset, who joins up against his father’s wishes. Robert forms fast friendships with Stanley, who lied about his age to go to war, and Ernest, whose own slippery account betrays a life on the streets. Their friendship is forged through gas attacks, trench warfare, freezing in trenches, hunting rats, and chasing down kidnapped regimental dogs. Their life is one of mud and mayhem but also love and laughs.
This is the story of Robert’s journey to Arras and back, his dreams and memories drawing him home. His story is that of the working-class Tommy, the story of thousands of young men who were caught in the collision between old rural values and the relentlessness of a new kind of war. It is a story that connects the past with the present through land, love and blood.
I wonder what Private Robert Gooding Henson of the Somerset Light Infantry would think if he read this thoughtful, emotional homage to his life and death. Cobley has captured the essence of the nostalgia, the fear, the hopes and what the possible journey towards the end could have been like for Robert, and simultaneously a small part of the horror of the Great War. Even that small part suffices to give readers an idea of the impact war had on those serving their country, the people caught in the middle and of course the loved ones waiting at home for the inevitable.
The story moves smoothly between past, present, real and imagined. The fragility of the body and soul, when confronted with the worst aspect of humanity. The damage caused by warfare and the lack of understanding, compassion and of course medical research in regards to shellshock and PTSD. Men were considered weaklings, and of course that includes the ultimate crime of being a coward. Too many men were slaughtered by firing squads for simply being afraid or cracking under the pressure of war. A firing squad served as a warning to others, but it also destroyed the morale and mental health of the soldiers.
I think this is a wonderful way to remember the many fallen and returned. Robert’s story is one of many and although the author does due diligence when it comes to remembering and paying respect, this is a heartwarming and gently woven tribute to both him and others.