In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

My Father’s WarGillian Darley

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.

Earlier this year I went to Picardy, heading for a tiny, skewed, rectangle I’d drawn on a map of northern France. Here, north of Bray-sur-Somme, south of Albert, in the countryside around Méaulte, Suzanne, Carnoy, Fricourt and Mametz, was where my father lived from August 1915 to March 1917. It isn’t on the Poppy Trail or the official Circuit of Remembrance. I wanted to scan horizons, plot distances, think back. Each nondescript name denotes a place destroyed, now a blank canvas of gigantic undifferentiated fields, with a slight queasy swell, and occasional woods, like ink splats on blotting paper. On that dank April morning there were only two distant figures in the entire landscape, masked by mist, and carrying shotguns.

My father died suddenly when I was twenty. He was in his early seventies, wrung out by a military career beginning on the Somme and ending after Dunkirk. Seen off-guard, a slight man with a surprisingly loud voice, he often looked drawn, tense. But it was too soon for me to ask questions, too late for him to answer them.

In the late 1960s, I was a student in London and neither at an age nor in the mood for retrospection. The 1914-18 war went unmentioned at home. In April 1918 my father was wounded in the leg and invalided home for several months. Yet he neither limped nor complained of pain. It was the least of his injuries. If I’d asked him about the screams I sometimes heard at night or his odd speech tic I’m sure he’d have been, at best, evasive.

There were other, larger questions I might have put to him, and which he might have been even less willing to answer. He would probably have been bemused to be asked to justify what he and his fellow schoolboys were fighting for. Why didn’t the waste of life in pursuit of blurred objectives and inchoate arguments raise its own urgent questions? But they were an immature generation in the case of the officer class, sheltered believers in empire, deference and loyalty. Second Lieutenant Robert Darley, gazetted in the Royal Regiment of Artillery on 10 February 1915, followed in his father’s footsteps. Born in 1859, George saw action in the Boer War.

As a teenager I’d occasionally hazarded what the daily familiarity with death and fearful injury might do to the sensibilities of a shy boy just out of school, but even then I sensed that my father’s quiet life in the Suffolk countryside was serving as belated, self-administered therapy. In my childhood we did not travel far (my father had had quite enough of that). One year, going west, we stopped at Winchester College, his school. He’d never seen the War Cloister, built in 1924. He stood apart, slowly reading down the names listed, five hundred boys and men, many from his own regiment. It was the only time I saw my father in tears.

On the 90th anniversary of the Armistice, in 2008, I located a written account to help me build up the physical reality of my father’s war. Until then I’d depended on the History of ‘A’ Battery, 84th Army Brigade, RFA 1914-18 by Major D.F. Grant MC (1922). Unusually, the major had commanded the battery throughout, making him paterfamilias to his small group, at most three hundred men, among them my father. Lieut. R. Darley turns up in his pages quite a bit. Once, ingloriously, he unloads munitions over a hedge straight into a deep pond, but otherwise he is mentioned for his courage. Grant’s little book was written to help survivors deal with the darkness that had fallen over their lives and he aimed to be positive, at least on an individual level. He was fiercely critical of organisational failures and alterations affecting the Royal Field Artillery.

At the height of what Grant calls the ‘great offensive’ on the Somme, my father, now a forward observing officer, resupplied the infantry with bombs, ‘making his way’ to headquarters and returning with ammunition, no simple journey. A little over a year later, at Passchendaele, probably the worst of all the engagements for the battery, he showed ‘marvellous energy and dogged persistence’, dragging guns through the mud under sustained gas attack, protected only by pouring rain. During the fierce German fightback in April 1918, he and a signaller defied heavy shelling and thick gas to mend crucial lines of communication to headquarters. His colleague was hit and died in his arms, but my father struggled back, though badly wounded, and re-established contact. He was given the Military Cross.

I remembered something else, a postcard sent in August 1915 by my father’s uncle, Brigadier-General Gordon Geddes RFA, to his brother-in-law, telling him that Bob had arrived safely. I discovered, online, that Geddes kept a war ‘diary’, which was (with some 150 others) housed at the Royal Artillery archives in Woolwich. My great-uncle was in France from August 1914 until April 1919. The ‘diaries’ are transcribed letters, highly descriptive (gunners were trained to be exceptionally observant) and witty, but also mundane and reassuring. He was keeping an eye on my father and offering comforting half-truths. I suspect that, with the passing months, he was varnishing the picture. The contrast between his account of my father, always ‘cheerful’, and his quarters, always ‘homely’ (even if leaking and subterranean), and the agonising scenes that he frequently encountered elsewhere is marked.

He describes a bucolic scene in August 1915. Geddes and his men are helping the women and old men to bring in the harvest – the young men had all left for the Front. His French is improving and he makes friends with a countess, now her own estate manager, dressed in a blue serge dress and puttees. Heilly, with its unmade roads, is appealingly remote, though the local girls fancy themselves ‘flappers’. He sent home prewar postcards of such villages. Heilly is still recognisable, as it remained well behind the lines. But all that’s left of the big house are a couple of gate piers and substantial remnants of masonry, masked by tangled vegetation. The site is sealed off with aggressive makeshift fencing, the barbed wire and old ironwork bearing the unambiguous message: enter ‘sous peine de poursuites’. When Geddes was there, terracotta bloodhounds stood on the front steps and its high windows looked down on the water meadows where British soldiers bathed in the river Ancre wearing only their helmets, both shocking and amusing the locals.

From Heilly, Geddes reported that on 3 August 1915 he’d taken responsibility for A/84. Recently promoted, he had charge of 124 guns (my father’s battery had only six), thousands of men and 4500 horses. ‘I want the Germans to keep quiet for a bit, till our new people have settled.’ He hurried to pay his first visit to my father’s bivouac and reported home: ‘Bob’s battery are in a lovely dugout & he will learn his job quietly & safely.’

On his second visit, in a staff car powering along at 60 mph, Geddes finds his 18-year-old nephew in charge, ‘stiff as a poker’, calling the men to attention. His quarters were seven feet underground, with five bunks ‘like the cabin of a ship & quite dark. It poured with rain & the water spouted in, but not on his bed!’ They had camouflaged the guns with leaves and brushwood. The enemy was astonishingly close: ‘We can see them walking about quite plainly.’ Once, when the two sides were in a steep-sided part of the Somme valley, ‘I looked into their trenches and villages. They can see into ours.’ The Germans, too, were strolling around, motoring, cycling and taking in the harvest while the conflict was on hold.

In the lull, my father must have shared his uncle’s pleasure in the late summer agricultural landscape, hazy blue with chicory, cornflowers and chalk butterflies, and overhead a procession of hawks, kestrels and even a hen harrier. Probably, like his uncle, he rode out in the early evenings – my father was much more confident on horseback than on his feet. Sometimes Geddes takes Bob out for the day, driving on what he calls his ‘village doctor’s’ rounds. Having heard that Germany is fighting for her life in the east, Geddes believes that ‘the second year of the Great War must finish her.’ After his experiences on the Marne the previous year, the end couldn’t come soon enough.

But by October the optimism has seeped away. Geddes observes that A/84 is under continuous attack though the depth of their dugouts makes them shell-proof. Some of their gun casements are colossal: ‘Regular Elephant Houses!’ The general takes Bob to lunch for his 19th birthday in mid-November, noting that ‘he thinks I live in great luxury – so I do comparatively – but I have done my share of dugouts.’ Already the mud, deep enough to swallow a gumboot without trace, had made the trenches unusable.

On Boxing Day 1915 Geddes visits A/84 with his own superior officer. Conditions, if possible, had worsened. The senior general is unsuitably dressed so my father lends him waders. The man in my father’s boots is Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Morland, who would be overall commander of forces at the Battle of the Somme. Now the two generals ‘flopped & scrambled along’ in a pea soup of mud, and as shelling starts my father suggests that they crawl to the observation post, ‘a little cell with a slit in it overlooking Fricourt’. They find themselves looking straight down onto a German-occupied village, their telescopic view showing ‘every twig & blade of grass & house’.

The Battle of the Somme engages their full gamut of weaponry, from 250 pounders to field guns. Then comes the German response: ‘Heavy shell flew overhead & burst in the batteries or in the trench we had come along … we left before the sermon.’ The generals retire to eat their sandwiches ‘10 feet under the ground, where the boy lived. He turned on his gramophone. There was a table & a stool & a bookshelf. He had lived there for 6 weeks.’ Music and homely things offer, he infers (for the benefit of those at home), some protection from the horror at ground level. On the last day of the year the Germans use tear gas and snatch their prisoners out of the trenches.

As the fabric of the area is systematically destroyed, shelter, for horses as much as for men, becomes a priority. In February 1916, passing through Albert in the snow, Geddes spots an officer loading bricks from ruined houses onto wagons. The ‘brickmaster’ is my father. Soon after, Geddes receives new orders and has to leave the area.

Occasionally Geddes hears of A/84, still between Méaulte and Bray; in September 1916 he returns from leave to learn they’ve helped capture Thiepval. In mid-October the two men meet again; now Bob is ‘near Albert with his horse lines. He lives in a “chattoo” built of ammunition boxes.’ He serves a ‘tip top’ lunch – ‘Tinned asparagus, beefsteak & onions & cheese’ – after which they drive to Bray on the Peronne road, returning to Albert via Fricourt and Mametz, where ‘the old Tanks have done wonders.’

But the tone of bravado is for domestic consumption, particularly for my grandparents’ sake. When he reports home on his visit to nearby Bazentin, he describes a ‘battlefield … such as, I suppose, was never seen in the world’s history’. They edge along the rims of shell-holes ‘like rats’.

Imagine a long ridge running east & west – stricken sticks represent woods, brown red mud everywhere & huge shell craters. Poor dead horses lay in some & in the trenches into which they had fallen … German boots & trousers with bones in them & human remains all over the place – a horrid smell pervaded the air – a gale blowing & rain coming down in torrents.

Shells scream overhead. Geddes was driving for six hours, on foot for three. The following day he takes to his bed. ‘Put it down to yesterday … The sights alone were enough to make even a strong man sick.’

When Geddes drops in to mark his nephew’s 20th birthday he can’t find him. Fog compounds the grim conditions but he perseveres and on his third try, ten days later, locates him with the horse lines ‘looking exceedingly well & cheerful’. The persistent search suggests how worried Geddes had been; his brother had been killed at Ypres in 1915.

The weeks and months dragged on. Geddes describes sinister yellow stains on the snow, the mark of gas attacks. In January 1917 he is back with A/84. A tree marked on the map had gone, and they’d fired on their own side. Luckily the casualties were slight. Major Grant was profoundly upset but relieved that in Geddes his battery had such a ‘kind-hearted and human friend’.

By then A/84 had been in the same area for 19 months. In March 1917, reorganised yet again, they head for Vimy Ridge (just north of Arras) and then take the long march towards Ypres, to embark on what Grant called ‘the sad and terrible Passchendaele fight’. Geddes can no longer keep an eye on his nephew. My father sustains a ‘slight head injury’ followed, some months later, by the serious leg wound. Now the story shrinks back to what little I knew from Grant’s book and the gazettes.

Almost a hundred years later, under a pall of drizzle, I tried to picture the scene in front of me shading into Geddes’s description of Bazentin. Now super-scaled agribusiness rolls numbly over trenches, gun emplacements, observation posts and the rest but just occasionally, in hot summers, their vestigial presences emerge like stretch-marks on distended skin.

In summer 1918 Geddes is back at Heilly. The chateau is ruined and the redoubtable ‘little countess’ has gone (he finds her and she is soon supplying cows again). Around Albert all has been destroyed, ‘devastation pure & simple. Dead trees & barren waste. So much for scenery.’ My father’s 22nd birthday was the day after the Armistice. Geddes wanted to have the cows shod ‘so they could march down Unter den Linden wagging their tails’.

In March 1919, Geddes encountered Bob serving with the British army of occupation near Cologne. It was probably their last meeting. The brigadier-general was heading home, with his Légion d’Honneur and a German album of ‘the most interesting photographs I have seen during the war’. By August 1919 he was dead, doubtless a victim of Spanish flu. Meanwhile my father, a career soldier, based in Colchester and Catterick, was posted to Turkey, then India, before embarking to France for his second world war.

Eventually, retired and married, he put the album and Grant’s history into a drawer. In his garden all was calm. Old roses were trained beside narrow paths. Venerable apple trees were espaliered into disciplined horizontals while softened by age and lichen. On the Somme no trees had survived; here elderly trees were propped and treasured; an arthritic medlar made a leafy bell-shaped tent, the angled trunk of an up-ended fruit tree a comfortable seat for long summers of teenage reading.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.