At just nineteen-years of age, Captain Neil Weir found himself a captain and company commander in the 10th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders fighting in some of the most fearsome battles of the First World War. During his service at Loos, Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Ploegsteert and the Somme, Neil Weir wrote letters home and maintained what he called his War Dairy.
The letters are inevitably brief, but Neil Weir’s War Dairy is far more detailed. Predictably the conditions the men had to endure are a feature of the writing when in Flanders.
The author travels on much trodden ground in discussing the events from D-Day to the end of the war. Nevertheless, in its 370 or so pages, this is a worthy effort. John Buckley’s main intention, he declares, is to demonstrate that the British Army that fought through Europe under Montgomery was far more effective than has previously been thought.
As Buckley points out, Montgomery was given two basic objectives by Churchill before the Allies launched the liberation of Europe. These were that the British Army should make a significant enough contribution in the fighting to ensure that Churchill could sit at the negotiating table at the end of the war on equal terms with Roosevelt and Stalin, whilst at the same time avoiding as much as possible the bloodletting that Churchill recalled so well in the fighting in Europe against the Germans in the First World War.
Many years ago a former locomotive fireman reminisced to me about wartime duties transporting newly arrived American troops from Liverpool docks.
Just before the train was due to depart from the Riverside station, driver and fireman would discover a pressing matter, requiring the attention of both of them, at the farthest point from the locomotive. Before setting off they would make sure that they were as scruffy as possible, with suitably war weary expressions. By the time they resumed the footplate they were laden with chocolate, nylons for their womenfolk and other expressions of American bounty.
So there could be a pleasant side to being a railwayman during the “dark days”. On the other hand, the work was often long and dirty before war came. During hostilities the length of shifts frequently increased and there was the addition of sometimes great danger for the men and women who kept the railways running and played their part in winning the Second World War.
For the Far East, the fighting which became part of the Second World War began in 1937 and continued until the collapse of Japan in 1945. Since 1931 the Japanese had been encroaching upon China’s territory. They had been able to achieve this because of the collapse of central authority in China since the Xinhai Revolution of 1912 which had swept away the old Qing Dynasty. Torn with internal strife, China was unable to fend off the Japanese incursions.
Being seen as territory that would provide Japan with raw materials, food, and, by subjecting its population, provide a compliant labour force, the vast province of Manchuria was the main subject of Japanese aggrandizement. Though Nanking was the Chinese capital at that time, Shanghai was the country’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. Of the forty-eight different national groups living there, the largest was that of the Japanese. In 1937 it was a city preparing for war.