Great War Letters from the Field
Fiercely nationalistic, at times blatantly jingoistic and politically incorrect by modern-day standards, The Unwanted reflects the passions of a man who was determined to serve his country during the Great War in any capacity he could regardless of rank or pay. As it turned out, he did it best by growing potatoes! When Major John McKendrick Hughes, O.C., C Company, 151st Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, and his unit reached Shorncliffe in late 1916, he and the other officers were bluntly informed by the British that they were "unwanted"-officers deemed "surplus to the establishment." Determined to contribute to the war effort, John became one of three Corps Agricultural Officers with the British 2nd Army, charged with growing vegetables and other foodstuffs to feed the troops. This is John's personal story, based on the letters he sent to his wife nearly every day for 2-1/2 years.
About the Authors
"Just landed is a book based on the First World War letters of John McKendrick Hughes to his wife. The Unwanted: Great War Letters from the Field is a passionate, politically unfiltered view of worlds being lost and made." Martin Levin, The Globe & Mail, June 18, 2005
"My favourite type of Great War book is the personal memoir..There are relatively few that deal with life in "the logistic tail", and that in itself would serve to make this tale interesting. As it is, there is much more to justify your time in reading it. John R. Hughes has compiled and edited the book from his grandfather's many letters. The book is very nicely produced, and John has managed an excellent balance of providing background information and comment, threading throughout the story as told by John McKendrick Hughes....All in all, a very interesting, unusual and insightful work. I could not put it down." Chris Baker, The Long, Long Trail website, www.1914-1918.net/books/unwanted.htm, August 15, 2005
"Letters retain an immediacy and intimacy over the years. Their power remains undiminished with the passing years. If anything, we come to value them more. The eyes that saw those events, the hands that wrote about them, now are gone, but the letters continue to speak to us. 'Now Dearie,' John Hughes writes home to his wife in Alberta in 1917, 'I have been scribbling on and hardly know what I have said. I only try to make you see with my eyes and hear with my ears.' This book has the feel of an old trunk full of memoirs and photographs pulled from an attic. Reading it conveys the same sense of discovery and excitement." Ken Tingley, The Edmonton Journal, October 9, 2005
"[Hughes'] organizational skills were equally impressive as he marshaled blind horses, wounded men and labour battalions from across the BEF to farm more then 40 000 acres-some within a couple thousand yards of the front lines. Covetous of a patch that the Germans had farmed, he schemed to get General Plumer to convince General Horne to step a mile south. Hughes, who spent only a few days training in the trenches, slept most nights in a bed and had a car and driver, nevertheless conveys in his letters both the quotidian nature of the four-year war and its horror. The first is exemplified by a story of French churchgoers stopping in their tracks to watch an aerial dog fight, as the sound of machine guns and bombs overpowers the 'chiming of the bells'. The second is exemplified by the corpsman who tells him at a Casualty Clearing Station: 'Sir, it is not so bad hauling dead men out and burying them. But hauling loads of arms and legs is horrible'." Nathan M. Greenfield, Times Literary Supplement, October 28, 2005
"[A] superb contribution to the still expanding library of World War I personal memoirs and military biographies." The Wisconsin Bookwatch, October 2005
"[Major Hughes was] charged with filling the stomachs of 'a million men', supplying them with fresh meat, milk and vegetables..In recognition of his remarkable contribution, in 1918 the French government awarded Hughes l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole, 'the only Canadian to receive this award'. Although Major Hughes had only about four years of formal education, he possessed a talent for expression, a taste for language, an eye for detail and significance, frankness and a good sense of humour; in short he was a masterful letter writer and storyteller..Major Hughes was justly proud of his and his non-combatant compatriots' accomplishments as soldier-farmers and was determined to perpetuate their memory, to give them voice." Carman Miller, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Fall, 2006.
"The Unwanted tells the story of John McKendrick Hughes' war, through the medium of a memoir written in the mid-1950s and constructed from Hughes' extensive wartime correspondence with his wife....Hughes' attempts to perform a useful service to the British war effort despite his 'unwanted' status form the narrative of this memoir....('We had left the farm in Western Canada to be a soldier. Now, within reach of shells and bombs and the steady roar of artillery, we were asked to leave off being a soldier and be a farmer. Well, so be it.' p.52). Indeed, his success in this role led to his being made Agricultural Officer for the 4th Army..The Unwanted is rich in detail, with Hughes offering a great many observations that fall outside the narrow field of British Army agricultural work....[I]t is to John McKendrick Hughes' credit that his lively style and pronounced opinion on a large number of subjects protects the reader from any creeping ennui." Michael Finch, Pembroke College, University of Oxford, International Society for First World War Studies, January 8, 2007 (full review at http://doc-iep.univ-lyon2.fr/wwi/article.php3?id_article=298)
"His memoirs and letters, helpfully annotated by his grandson, shed light on a hitherto unknown aspect of the war." J.L. Granatstein, Canadian Book Review Annual, 2006.
""The Canadian military experience in the First World War is remembered as largely an experience of trenches, mud, and shells. Seriously neglected is the array of support that putting that army into the field required, and the experiences of those providing it.John McKendrick Hughess The Unwanted: Great War Letters from the Field provides a corrective by looking beyond the battlefield and giving voice to one of the myriad other military experiences of Canadas participation in the First World War. Hughes is opinionated, sometimes bitter, and also often funny, especially in his anecdotes about his interactions with leading social and political figures of the day. Hughes was a man with a fourth-grade education, a farmer, and a soldier who did not spend his war in traditional heroics. The story of someone who rarely has a historical voice, this memoir adds an important layer to our understanding of Canadian participation in the Great War." Amy Shaw, University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 76, Number 1, Winter 2007, pp. 526-527"
"The Unwanted tells this remarkable story from the point of view of an energetic Canadian in his middle thirties who had no time for British army rules....The book presents an often entertaining account of remarkable success in agricultural endeavour under difficult circumstances: bomb craters, whizzing shells, dead horses and human corpses were frequently encountered. Potatoes, vegetables, pigs and cattle figure largely in this farmer's story, together with entertaininng reminiscences about the British office class. After the war, John McKendrick Hughes returned to his farm near Flatbush in northern Alberta, becoming a leading figure in local agricultural co-operatives and a keeen author....The University of Alberta Press are to be congratulated for producing an elegant book with excellent photographs and page design at a good price." Hugh Clout, The Agricultural History Review, Volume 54, 2006.
"The book is both entertaining and well-written, and is a most important first-hand account of the administration ad logistics of the war." Bob Wyatt, Stand To! (Western Front Association), April 2007, No. 79
"The Canadian military experience in the First World War is remembered as largely an experience of trenches, mud, and shells. Seriously neglected is the array of support that putting that army into the field required, and the experiences of those providing it..John McKendrick Hughes's The Unwanted: Great War Letters from the Field provides a corrective by looking beyond the battlefield and giving voice to one of the myriad other military experiences of Canada's participation in the First World War..Hughes's perspective is valuable not only in that it gives a glimpse into the breadth of Canadian military experiences in France, but also in that his position required him to look at the battlefields of France in terms of their suitability for farming. This unusual point of view helps him put forward several insights and memorable images about the battlefields in their most basic sense, as fields. The devastation of the war is described memorably in its effects upon the land itself..Hughes is opinionated, sometimes bitter, and also often funny, especially in his anecdotes about his interactions with leading social and political figures of the day..We see how unexpected lessons from his war experience developed through his later life, such as his lesson in socialism from a conservative aristocrat, and his later passion for the co-operative movement. Hughes was a man with a fourth-grade education, a farmer, and a soldier who did not spend his war in traditional heroics. The story of someone who rarely has a historical voice, this memoir adds an important layer to our understanding of Canadian participation in the Great War." Amy Shaw, University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 76, No. 1, Winter 2007
"Canadians at the Western Front were not only in the trenches or on the battlefield. Thousands were part of the army's support services behind the lines. Hughes became an Agricultural Officer, in charge of planting a 'kitchen garden' that would feed a million. When Major General Holman sees that Hughes can plan for this, making use of abandoned farms, he says, 'Hughes, what I like about you Canadians is that nothing stumps you. You have a job, and a damn big one.' (p. 4) ... This is the tone of the book. Friendly, well-written, confiding."—Canadian Writers Abroad, Canadian Writers Abroad
"[Hughes] proposed that crops in battle zones be harvested for military and civilian use, with the help of soldiers not on active service, including those suffering from shell shock."—Adriana A. Davies, Edmonton Journal
Other Titles in HISTORY / Military / World War I