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What Tommy Took To War


Book review of What Tommy Took To War which looks at the history of uniforms and kit and how soldiers used their equipment in the First World War:

For an understanding of the tools, equipment and uniform worn by the average soldier during the Great War then we recommend What Tommy Took to War, 1914-1918 by military historian Peter Doyle and artist and photographer Chris Foster. Insightful sections relevant to those with an interest in military nursing history include the history of the steel helmet and why they were first issued late in September 1945. Readers of our First World War page will have seen that there was a high incidence of head wounds in the first year of WWI. This is explained in What Tommy Took To War where the author describes how soldiers would wear Service Dress caps which afforded snipers an easy shot.

War has traditionally seen the advancement in medical and nursing techniques and equipment and is no different for the kit used by soldiers. For instance we learn that respirators were developed rapidly after a German gas attack during the assault at Ypres. Throughout his book Peter Doyle explains the development of such equipment and how it helped or inadvertently hindered the average Tommy in the Trenches.

Other interesting pages of relevance to readers of our site may be the

Stretcher Bearer armband worn by medics on the frontline and the first field dressings. Chris Foster has produced some stunning photographs of original items like these and one of the joys of reading and writing this review of What Tommy Took To War 1914-1918 is the visual treat of photos and images on each page that tell their own stories.

It brings a greater understanding of the conditions in the trenches and what the average soldier had to carry. This ranges from the history and depiction of the 1908 pattern webbing and its later replacement the 1914 leather webbing through to the trench whistle, bayonet and fire-arms.

At times it can be quite a poignant reminder of the sacrifice made by so many men. The most moving for us was the photo and description of the spoon used by Private William Richardson of the King's Own Scottish Borderers. Like many he sharpened the end so that it was easier to eat in the trenches and was stamped with his Regiment and the last four digits of his Regimental Number. Sadly he was listed as missing presumed dead and his body was never recovered, though his spoon was found.

There are even emotional touches from those at home in the form of examples of the trench art or jewellery worn by loved ones. These were often in Regimental colours and some formed out of shrapnel and scrap metal of the battlefields. A picture of "Serving his King, Country and Empire" poster that was proudly placed in windows of family homes was most moving.

We learned a great deal from What Tommy Took To War by Peter Doyle and Chris Foster and the manufacture and sale of a Tommy Touchwud lucky charm came as touching surprise.

Other items covered include training manuals, semaphore cards and bibles. Another interesting section about casualties is the AB64 Soldier's Service and Pay Book which was carried in the breast pocket of the uniform jacket and to help provide identification of a battlefield casualty. The author also describes the history of the identity discs and why so many chose to make or have made their own ID bracelet.

This book is a must for anyone with an interest in the First World War and of the conditions Tommy found himself in and how he coped with the equipment issued.

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The Drummer Boy The Drummer Boy continues the adventures of QARANC nurse, Scott Grey, who has the special gift of seeing military ghosts. In this novel he is haunted by the ghost of a Gordon Highlander Drummer Boy from the Battle of Waterloo. It is based on the legends of the Tidworth Military Hospital Drummer Boy.


Chapters take place in modern day Aberdeen, at the Noose & Monkey bar and restaurant as well as His Majesty’s Theatre and Garthdee. Other scenes take place at Tidworth and during the Napoleonic War where I describe battlefield medical care of this era.


Read the first three chapters for free on most devices.


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Forces War Records

Forces War Records are a genealogy site where you can find military records of over 6 million British Armed Forces personnel cross matched with over 4000 Regiments, Bases and Ships. This link includes a free search and a special discount of 40% off membership offer for visitors who use the discount code AF40 if they decide to become a member.
Search Now. A unique feature is their WW1 Soldiers Medical Records section.







If you would like to contribute to this page, suggest changes or inclusions to this website or would like to send me a photograph then please e-mail me.



Official QARANC webpage.

QA Association website.

In The Company of Nurses Book.


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The Grey Lady Ghost of the Cambridge Military Hospital Novel - a Book by CG Buswell


The Drummer Boy Novel


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