The Untold Story of World War I
by Sidney Allinson
Early in the war, when hundreds of thousands of young men were rushing to enlist, there were tens of thousands who found their patriotic ambitions thwarted by regulations. Age was probably the main one, but this was easily circumvented, and there are many stories of youngsters who, having been refused when they gave their true age, simply went to the end of the queue and added a couple of years when their turn came round again. It was more difficult, though to overcome the Army's minimum height, which was 5 feet 3 inches. No matter how fit, strong or willing a man might be, there was no room for him in the army if he could not meet this height requirement.
It took time, but eventually the authorities came to realise that there was a large number of would-be soldiers, keen and eager to serve, and that there were big hearts beating within their small frames. Special Battalions - which became known as Bantam Battalions - were formed and at last, there was a place for these small men who wanted to prove that they could be as good soldiers as any of their taller brothers.
In this book, Sidney Allinson has given us an excellent and enthralling account of how these men overcame the illogical prejudice which often persists against people who happen to be short. During his research he was able to find and interview over 300 surviving Bantams, and he makes reference to letters, official documents and many previously unpublished sources.
Sidney subtitles his book, "The Untold story of World War 1" and there is a lot of justification for this claim, for although I have been aware for many years that there were Bantam Battalions, I would be hard put to give the title of any book devoted to them, apart from this one. Yet by the end of the war, more than 50,000 Bantams had served at the front, including almost 2,000 of Sidney Allinson's fellow-Canadians. The Bantams lived up to their name; they were pugnacious and daring and they suffered many casualties. Yet it does seem that they were forgotten when the history books were written.
I enjoyed this book immensely, and recommend it highly. One of the book's greatest delights for me was a very personal one. As a schoolboy, I discovered the poetry of Isaac Rosenberg, killed in a trench-raid in 1918. Issac Rosenberg was my first Dead Hero, and he achieved monumental stature in my mind. Having read this book, though, I discovered that Rosenberg was a member of one of the Bantam Battalions. This means that he was less than 5 feet 3 inches tall. He would barely have reached my shoulder. But, to my great joy, this realisation makes no difference at all. He still towers above me, his lofty heart and mind quite overshadowing my mere "superiority" in height.
BANTAMS - the Untold Story of World War 1 was was published in London by Howard Baker, and in Canada by Mosaic Press, but the book is now out of print. However, Sidney Allinson himself has sufficient copies to be able to meet orders. He can be contacted at:
Paperback, A5, 287 pages, photographs.
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