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A wartime romance survival saga and murder mystery set in rural France during the First World War height of the fighting on the Western front in August 1914; unable to get back to their units they shelter in the tiny French village of Villeret Living in daily fear of capture and execution they are fed clothed and protected by the villagers including the local matriarch Madame Dessenne the baker and his wife in love with the twenty year old daughter of one of his protectors and in November 1915 with war waging a few miles away she gives birth to a baby girl The child is just six months old when someone betrays the men to the Germans They are captured tried as spies and summarily condemned to death Using the testimonies of the daughter the villagers detailed town hall records and most movingly the soldiers' last letters Ben Macintyre reconstructs an extraordinarily story of love duplicity and shame ultimately seeking to discover through decades of village rumour the answer to the uestion 'Who betrayed Private Digby and his men?'


10 thoughts on “The Englishman's Daughter A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I

  1. says:

    It is clear this book is written by a journalist rather than a novelist Wouldn’t you clearly recognize the difference between the words of a novel and those found in a newspaper? A newspaper article relates fact and number and dates It states the people and places involved You are told what happens That is how this book is written This book is based on official documents letters diaries and newspaper articles Extensive research lies behind its content The facts related are about the villagers of Villeret which during WW1 hid seven British soldiers Three escaped to Britain Someone betrayed these men The remaining four were captured and killed This was in 1916 Villeret is located where the Battle of the Somme raged The battle the movement of the front the numbers killed and such statistics are related These events are presented in a dry manner The use of gas is described with these words Germany launched the first successful chlorine gas attack in April north of Ypres sending a ten foot high cloud of lethal lichen green vapour into the opposite trenches Thousands coughed themselves to death The use of chlorine by the GermanStinkpioniere units was followed by asphyxiating phosgene gas carbon oxychloride treacherously invisible and twenty times deadly Phosgene did not kill immediately Death came painfully by drowning after the victim had retched up several pints of yellow mucus the much praised phlegm of the British soldier turned lethally against him page 102I compare these lines with the heart wrenching portrayal of the men fighting in the trenches as the gas engulfs them in A Long Long Way In Sebastian Barry’s book you are torn apart In Macintyre’s you are interested There is a huge difference I am annoyed when the cover shows a uote from the Washington Times “wrenching thoroughly captivating reminds one of the novels of Michael Ondaatje” This book is clear and interesting but not captivating or wrenching and I see no comparison to Ondaatje’s writing It is a good book about the fighting around the Somme and what happened in one village in this area One of the hidden British soldiers does fall in love with a woman of the village and they do have a child but this is not a love story and one scarcely empathizes with any of the characters Only at the end of the book is one gripped by the story Who could have betrayed these men? This is discussed in the last chapter Here it is difficult to put the book down The reasoning is clear and convincing And you really do want to know The book does have two excellent maps and numerous black and white photosA good book about WW1 and the fighting on the Western Front Interesting and well researched but to use adjectives such as passionate and wrenching is to stretch it Only the last chapter reads like a gripping mystery


  2. says:

    True story of four British soldiers who found themselves lost behind enemy lines in 1914 For two years the villagers of occupied Villeret hid and protected them as best they could but in 1916 the soldiers were exposed rounded up and shot Who betrayed them and why is the mystery Macintyre tries to uncover through extensive research and interviews with the village survivors and descendents but the real focus of the book is the unrelenting horror of living under German occupation and the amazing stories of the soldiers—one man hid in a wardrobe another dressed as a girl one spoke French well enough he simply became a villager Gripping — reads almost like a mystery novel and it comes with pictures Hardly realized I was reading non fiction


  3. says:

    Soon after the beginning of World War I four British soldiers find themselves stuck behind enemy lines and unable to return to their units they seek shelter in the French countryside hiding close to German troops just outside a French villageThey are soon discovered by the villagers of Villeret a tiny village occupied by the Germans The locals take the bold decision to shelter them in the barns and houses around the village right under the nose of the enemy Their uniforms are hidden and the villagers provide peasant clothes so they blend in better and they begin to settle into village life even helping in the fields with the crops and harvest Of the four there a natural leader emerges Robert Digby he comes from upper middle class society even though he was a private in the war He immerses himself in the village life so much he begins a passionate affair with a local girl who soon falls pregnant and in time give birth to a daughterThe occupation of the village is harsh The German army is very demanding of the resources of the village helping themselves to all produce emptying entire cellars of wine demanding that all chickens provide a certain number of eggs a day including cockerels Soldiers going to and from from the front are billeted with the villagers too It is a very harsh life Soon it is discovered that there is a spy ring in the village there is no direct link to the British soldiers but it it thought that Digby might have know of it The commander starts to ramp up the pressure on all the inhabitants to reveal everything that they have hiddenThen one day they are betrayed Three of them are rounded up fairly uickly but Digby escapes The captured men are 'tried' and sentenced to be shot the following day Digby's location is revealed and he is caught and is put through the same trial and sentence No one knows who is the person who is betrayed them but the whole village turn out at the service the church The commandant says that they are only allowed to lay one wreath per soldier and the village responds by giving each of the men a enormous wreath each to spite himMacintyre has a way of bringing these historical stories to life He has uncovered masses of dateline the life in the village at the time of the First World War and using some artistic licence has made a readable narrative of their lives under cover He has also looked at the evidence to see who it could have been that betrayed the men partly to answer Digby's daughters uestion but also to set the record straight He has a list of possible suspects and their motives and reaches some kind of a conclusion given the evident that can be collected 100 years or so after the eventIt is a well written history of four men in World War i the war where everyone suffered and it does feel that a little bit of justice has been done


  4. says:

    From BBC Radio 4 Extra dramaAugust 1914 After British decimation at the Battle of Mons four soldiers hide out in rural France Read by Tom Goodman Hill25 Suspecting that enemy soldiers are posing as civilians the Germans warn the French not to hide them35 As the British soldiers settle into the French village complications arise when one falls in love 45 The German hold on the French village intensifies but the British soldiers are determined to escape 55 May 1916 The last days of British soldier Robert Digby and the looming Battle of the Sommehttpwwwbbccoukprogrammesb00vs5s7


  5. says:

    Solid nonfiction of an interesting WWI story British soldiers stranded behind German lines in a French hamlet that eventually found itself directly in the battle for the Somme What is striking is the depravity of the 'Boche' the German military in stripping the French of every morsel of food personal possession furnishings jewelry and finally blowing up the village housing and church Especially when this rapaciousness repeated in 30 years with WWII on an even greater scale across Europe and the USSR How much of the furnishings jewelry objet d'art in today's Germany was STOLEN during the first or second world war? never mind the revolting mountains of shoes at the camp museums


  6. says:

    Perhaps instead of the subtitle of A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I a apt subtitle for this book would be A True Story of a French Village during World War I Maybe not as appealing but much accurate I found The Englishman's Daughter to be not so much a love story as a story about a small French village during World War I Reading this book I got a good sense of what life was like for these French peasants before the war and during the German occupation The affair between Englishman Robert Digby and French peasant Claire Dessenne only made up a small fraction of the narrative Information about the daughter that was born as a result of the relationship was even scarce The story was really slow and rather dry for at least the first half of the book There was a lot of set up and explanations about the maneuvers and movements between the armies etc The story of Robert and Claire does not even really make an appearance until about page 100 and only occupies a handful of pages throughout The Englishman's Daughter is about so much than Robert and Claire If you are looking for a good human interestlove story from WWI keep looking If you are looking for the true story of what life was like in a small French village that harbored some English soldiers while the Germans occupied the area and what happened to them than this book might be worth the read spoilerAs I suspected throughout my reading there was no clear answer to who betrayed the English soldiers to the Germans Macintyre did do a good job of presenting the likely suspects and working through what little evidence there is to try and determine who actually did turn them in but too many years and too many missing records make that all but impossible


  7. says:

    I can't offhand think of anything else I've come across dealing with life in the German occupied portion of France during the First World War so this was a fascinating change of pace with a lot of flavour stranded British soldiers living in hiding doomed wartime romances conuered living with conuerors spy rings conspiracies One has to be suspicious of any historical narrative whose only real sources are postwar accounts by the locals or family stories handed down from people's long dead grandparents but Macintyre clearly spent a long time on his research and he keeps his speculation to a minimum until the final chapterIn that last chapter he turns his attention to trying to untangle a mystery that must have been a huge part of his research throughout his preparation for the book and I think it's a great choice on his part to refrain from mentioning it throughout the main part of the book I had initially blanched when I saw how much longer the final chapter was than any of its antecedents especially since it comes after the story is finished but it represents such a change of tone and does so well tying together a bunch of strands from the main narrative that it wouldn't have occurred to the reader to connect that I tore right through it Macintyre has a real talent with every new theory he presents to get you to think Ah this must be what actually happened regardless of the fact that you just thought that exact same thing about the last possibility that he was ideally suited to write a book with this sort of finish


  8. says:

    Ben Macintyre’s book The Englishman’s Daughter is a book of war love friendship and betrayal It is a story about a group of nine ally soldiers that all find their way to a small town in northern France named Villeret after being left behind by there retreating units The people in this town hide the soldiers and care for them as they hide under the noses of the German soldiers patrolling around the town When the Germans start to get suspicious five soldiers leave and four stayed and when back into hiding Then an unknown townsperson betrayed the soldiers and told the germans the location of the hiding soldiers The Villeret civilians and the ally soldiers were sentenced to different punishments some worse than others But the you look into the book the understandings of the true meaning of the book are revealed This is a great story and I would recommend reading it It can be hard to follow but it makes sense the your read Macintyre uses uotes names of people and cities in the language and even went to the city to get the right information to best tell the story He tells of his experience there in the end of the book He shares details that honestly don't need to be in the book but make the story better It tell the story from being to the end and even into the future Macintyre gets to visit this town and the relatives of the past citizens he uses these experience to get multiple point of view of the story When he asked who betrayed the soldiers many people had many different answers Macintyre was able to take many different version of one story and combine them to make the story in the book The Englishman’s Daughter Although The Englishman’s Daughter is a story that is not well known it is much It is a story that show that love does not any boundaries and that with love there is also sacrifice The citizens of Villeret were loving and caring to the ally soldiers that were passing The people did not have to help them But because they helped the soldiers they sacrificed their safety and freedom This sacrifice is shown at the end of the book when the different sentences are give for the crimes committed Although the soldier were eventually found and the punishments carried out the story still lives on and the deaths of the four brave soldiers were not in vain Just like most books there is a deeper meaning than the one you read on the top To fully understand a book you need to reread parts you didn’t understand the first time or direct the true meaning of the book Many book have the same moral and many can have than one moral but every book has one In the book The Englishman’s Daughter there are many morals Some of which I might not of found yet I do recommend reading this book if you are into WWI and try to find some of the morals that i may have left outRating 355


  9. says:

    In 1914 the British faked a retreat to draw the Germans out of position to fight them but this retreat became disorganized and many English soldiers were lost behind enemy German lines Most of them surrendered but a few hid with French villagers including four men in Villeret They uickly assimilated with the villagers and learned the language and customs and became unnoticeable to the German occupiers One of the men Robert Digby fell in love with a village girl and they had a child Rather than unite the village the girl caused a lot of controversy as her villager grandmother refused to acknowledge her and jealous men and women stirred up gossip Finally in 1918 someone reported the men to the German occupiers The four men were arrested tried in court as spies and executed A few months later the village was relocated to internment camps in other regions When the war was over many of the villagers did not come back to Villeret Several decades later Ben Macintyre found out about the Villeret story and decided to investigate it Over several months he interviewed all the surviving Villeret inhabitants and discovered who betrayed the EnglishmenI enjoyed reading this book because it was very interesting and extremely exciting I did not enjoy the overload of factual information about World War One battlesI would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys World War One books and escape stories


  10. says:

    This is an unusual and mysterious true story 'Unusual' in that tells of four British soldiers who were stranded behind the German lines in the early weeks of the First World War and were then concealed for over eighteen months by the inhabitants of an occupied village until they were seemingly betrayed to the Germans and executed as spies 'Mysterious' in that one asks why few if any attempts were made by these soldiers to escape via Belgium perhaps and also whether they and in particular the main character Private Robert Digby were actually involved in spy networks If so this would partly explain their fate The story is given colour by the love affair between Digby and a beautiful French girl which produced a daughter who was still alive when Ben Macintyre researched his book turn of the MilleniumThe book is interesting and informative and does leave you wondering what was actually happening It also provides a good insight into the experience of the French people who suffered German occupation in the First World War We have idea of the experiences of France in the Second World War but this book makes clear how savage and brutal life under German occupation was in the earlier great conflictHighly recommended