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Brand: Ruth Elwin Harris

Billie

by Ruth Elwin Harris

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Billie: The Neville Letters 1914-1916

Of all the stories arising from that disastrous day, July 1 1916, on the Somme, none is more poignant than that of Lt Wilfred ‘Billie' Nevill, an officer of the 8th East Surrey Regiment, who issued his men with footballs to kick into No Man's Land when the whistle went for the advance - as though the Somme was to be a Wembley Cup Final writ large. Nevill and most of his men were dead within the first few minutes of the battle, but their story remains as an icon of the British sporting spirit set against the mechanised realities of modern war. Based on over 200 letters to his family from the front, this volume tells Nevill's story. The text is accompanied by 30 b/w photos and three sketch maps.This correspondence forms one of the best collections of First World War letters held by the IWM.

Staff Reviews

If Captain Wilfred Percy 'Billie' Nevill is remembered for anything, it is for arranging footballs to be kicked by his men as they went over the top on 1 July 1916 - the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It is a gesture that has gone down in history as a symbol of British sangfroid. Neville himself was among the 19,000 men who were killed on that fateful day. He was aged 22. With his quick wit and easy manners Nevill was a popular member of the 8th East Surrey Regiment, which he had joined on the outbreak of war in August 1914. Amy was a volunteer nursing assistant (VAD) working in hospitals behind the lines. His letters, and those of his sister Amy, to their large and loving family survive. Edited extracts are published in this book. On the surface Neville's letters are like those of thousands of young officers full of sparkle and schoolboy humour, although there are increasing hints of darkness as the months in the trenches drag on. Amy's letters are more prosaic, concentrating on her work at the hospitals at which was based. The letters, which have been well edited, are an interesting contribution to the literature of the First World War. Simon Fowler Friends of The National Archives Friends of The National Archives