I get asked to review books a lot, and as a book-worm I’m always intrigued to see where a new book will take me. Some I really enjoy, others maybe not so much and then there are those that I just can’t put down, but don’t want to end. Hanham by Andrew Wood is that book and the story of this family gave me some insight in to what my own grandfather and great uncle’s might also have faced during World War One. If you like a book based on a true story then I can thoroughly recommend this one, it has something for everyone.
Some time after my parents emigrated to Spain I asked my brother if I could photograph my grandfather’s medals from the Great War as I’d never seen them. I was working on our family history and hoped that they might give me some clues to work from. They gave me so much more, as my brother found a newspaper cutting behind the medals relating to his older brother who had been killed in the war. It sent me on a voyage of discovery, and as I turned the pages of Hanham I felt that in a way, I was learning more about my own family.
The story of the Hanham family has been brought back to life after the author’s father bought a bullet hit tobacco tin in an auction. The tin had saved a soldier’s life in 1915, and the purchase came with family letters, postcards, pictures and diaries which enabled Andrew Wood to piece together the lives of the three Hanham brothers, Stuart, Eric and Basil, and their mother and sisters.
Their story could so easily be my ancestors story, and the way it was discovered had me hooked from the beginning. At the very start of Hanham we learn that one of the brothers is listed on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium, but which one?
We see the brother joining up at the start of the war. Stuart, the eldest and Basil, the youngest are already territorial soldiers with the Kensington Battalion and the middle brother, Eric decided to join them. Their sister Kathleen agrees to move in with their mother Eva whilst the boys are at war.
The book shows us the reality of life in the trenches, the awful weather conditions and the incessant noise of war. We see how each of the brothers deal with life as a full time soldier, the friendships that are made and just how fragile life was. Basil and his mother have always had a strong bond, and when he’s wounded on Christmas Eve 1914, Eva knows instantly that’s something is wrong. Basil is sent to a hospital back in England but with a bullet lodged close to his heart and lungs it is deemed too dangerous to operate on him. He’s eventually sent home to convalesce, but is wracked with guilt for not being able to get back to the front line and fight with his brothers and comrades.
Eric is very close to his younger brother and is looking forward to sharing an adventure with him and their older brother. But the war soon takes its toll on him and when he sees first hand that his brother is wounded, there’s a darkness that comes over him. He wants to avenge his brother but it won’t end well and in fact it’s his tobacco tin that saves his life when he’s shot, and gives us this story. The tin saved his life and once he’s recuperated he’s sent back to the front line again to join his Battalion.
As the eldest of the brothers, Stuart has been seen to be the head of the family since their father died and he’s the one the boys turn to when in need. He’s put his legal studies on hold to go to war, and meets Emily just as they are about to head to the front. She gives him hope for a life after war, for a future in Canada.
Back home Kathleen is working as an actress and discovers love with a makeup artist called Harriet. Their feelings have to be kept behind closed doors and she’s heartbroken when Harriet decides to train as a nurse and moves away. We watch as Kathleen tries to hold things together at home with her mother, and a despondent Basil who is eventually discharged from the army in 1917. You want her to be able to be the woman she wants to be but in London of the early 1900’s you can see her being forced to conform. We learn that at the end of the war she’s married and has a child, I felt rather disappointed for her really.
I don’t want to give anything else away about Hanham, I really do want you to read it for yourself. I will say, that I became emotionally involved with each of the characters in this book, with the things they endured and sights they must have witnessed. You don’t need to have a real interest in military history to enjoy this story, although it will almost certainly leave you wanting to find out more about your own family history. There’s a character in the book with my maiden name, I don’t think we’re related, but I know I’m going to have to investigate further now. I also know that Hanham is one of those books that I’ll end up reading again. That doesn’t happen often.
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disclosure: we were sent the item mentioned in exchange for an honest review