Field Service by Robert Edric (Doubleday)
THIS riveting story is about the First World War, not the actual conflict but the sobering aftermath.
The central character is Captain James Read who is based in Morlancourt, France in 1920.
His unit has been tasked with the identification and burial of the many corpses still scattered around the fields and battle grounds of Normandy.
It is a thankless task and Reid and is men are reminded in stark terms of how horrific the war was. They just want to get back to their wives and families but there is still a job to be done.
Author Robert Edric has obviously done his research and he chronicles in some detail how the unit went about its duties.
For some, there is a price to pay and Reid’s colleague Lieutenant Alexander Lucas finds the role challenging especially after the death of his wife back in Britain because of scarlet fever.
The importance of paying proper respect to the fallen is brought even more into the focus with the arrival in Morlancourt of two women, nurse Caroline Mortimer, there to receive the bodies of some of her colleagues and Mary, a bereaved fiancée wanting to have one last moment with her loved one before he is buried.
There is a suggestion of a possible romance between the captain and the nurse but although it is never pursued, the presence of the women on the scene is a crucial moment.
Edric handles all this in a gentle, poignant way but also hints at the tensions which exist between Reid and Lucas and the ‘top brass’ who don’t want to dirty their hands even when the fighting has stopped.
Field Service is very much a recommended read, especially if you plan to visit the war cemeteries and former battle grounds of the First World War.