Posted by: sommecourt | 03/10/2011

All The Bright Company of Heaven

All The Bright Company of Heaven

By Renny Richardson

Menin House Publishers, an imprint of Tommies Guides

ISBN 978-1-908336-00-2, 357pp, illustrations, £17.95

War Memorial books are not new, but I was interested to read of this just released title as I grew up in the town of Crawley, and the book tells the ‘forgotten story of the Cook family, Crawley and the Great War’. Crawley was a small Sussex market town in 1914, on the main London-Brighton route, with a local economy based on the land and the railway. The town had expanded in Victorian and Edwardian Britain and here the story starts – with the Cook family who were local builders. When war came in 1914 three Cook sons departed, and through the pages that follow we take their journey from training to the front, ending with the death of the heir to the family business, Richard Edward Cook, in Flanders in 1918.

Aside from his family’s own personal story, Renny Richardson cleverly weaves in the story of the whole town and their sacrifice. Using local newspapers and local archives he has uncovered a huge amount of fascinating detail, and there are some fascinating glimpses into the lives and deaths of the more than 100 men from Crawley listed on the local War Memorial.

Far from reading like a list of names, as many war memorial books do, the author has created a credible and enjoyable narrative that will appeal to anyone with an interest in the Great War, whether they know where Crawley is or not. It actually casts light onto a lesser known subject – a small rural town in the South-East, and how the war impacted on it. Most studies look at cities or small villages, and in that respect this book is genuinely covering new ground.

Renny Richardson writes with passion, and although the book has the occasional editorial mistake and small factual error, and some of the illustrations are disappointing, he has created a fine and outstanding memorial to one family’s sacrifice, and the wider loss and sadness of a town they helped to build. Recommended.

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