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Review of "Signals From The Great War"

The experiences of a Signals Officer on the Western Front as told through his war diaries 1917-1919 by Archibald Gordon MacGregor RE MC

Review by Chris Baker, former chairman of the Western Front Association, and author of website 'The Long,Long Trail'.

I have to confess to a connection with this book in that the editor, Archibald Gordon MacGregor's daughter Anna, kindly allowed me to quote from his diary and use a photograph of him in my 2007 book "The battle for Flanders: German defeat on the Lys, 1918"?. Even back then she was engaged in the work that resulted in this excellent "Signals from the Great War".

Archibald Gordon MacGregor, born in Nova Scotia in 1894, moved with his family to Edinburgh in 1901. He was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in February 1915 and served as the Signals Officer of 27th Infantry Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division on the Western Front from 1917 to 1919. "Archie" was awarded the Military Cross for his work during the Battle of the Lys in April 1918.

Archie left a real treasure trove of material concerning his war: his diary, letters, collected orders and other official material, maps, press cuttings, photographs and sketches. He also wrote a fascinating dedication of his material to his grandchildren in 1968. The editor has applied the lightest of touches to pull this material into a good, logical, well-presented and easily readable story. Letters and other documents are reproduced in facsimile, while the narrative is in clear text. It makes for an insightful, detailed, view of the war as experienced by a subaltern and is particularly valuable for its coverage of the last year of the war, a period all too often skimmed over or virtually omitted. Archie's personality, practicality and objectivity come across clearly and I found I liked him. It is also of great interest that despite experiencing periods of great tension, personal danger and loss he never descends to disenchantment: quite the opposite indeed, for he knows there is a job to be done. His 1968 missive to his grandchildren concludes, "I hope neither you nor your children have to fight another war to defend the basis of Christian civilisation - but if you do, hold high the torch that was passed on in Flanders fields so long ago!". Amen to that.

Very nicely produced in glossy paperback, the book is well priced and I commend it anyone. For those interested in the work of the Signals Service of the Royal Engineers or in the 9th (Scottish) Division, it is a particular treat.

Go on, while there is still time for Christmas!