A wartime romance, survival saga and murder mystery set in rural France during the First World War.
Four young British soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western front in August 1914; unable to get back to their units, they shelter in the tiny French village of Villeret. Living in daily fear of capture and execution, they are fed, clothed and protected by the villagers including the local matriarch, Madame Dessenne, the baker and his wife.
The self-styled leader of the band of fugitives, Private Robert Digby, falls in love with the twenty-year-old-daughter of one of his protectors and in November 1915, with war waging a few miles away, she gives birth to a baby girl. The child is just six months old when someone betrays the men to the Germans. They are captured, tried as spies and summarily condemned to death.
Using the testimonies of the daughter, the villagers, detailed town hall records and most movingly – the soldiers’ last letters – Ben Macintyre reconstructs an extraordinarily story of love, duplicity and shame – ultimately seeking to discover through decades of village rumour the answer to the question, ‘Who betrayed Private Digby and his men?‘
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In A Foreign Field Ben MacIntyre has found another story from history's margins In two previous books, Forgotten Fatherland and The Napoleon of Crime, he focused on characters from the footnotes of history, creating compelling narratives from the stories of Nietzsche's sister and of a Victorian master criminal, brought it centre stage and constructed a very powerful drama of love, war and death around it. Robert Digby was a well-educated, middle-class private in the British Expeditionary Force at the beginning of World War I. In the very first month of the war, as the British, French and German armies surged back and forth across tracts of northern France, he became isolated behind enemy lines. When the fluid front lines of the war's first phase rapidly hardened into the murderous stalemate of the trenches, Digby and other British soldiers were permanently trapped in German-occupied territory. Seven, including Digby, took refuge in the small village of Villeret and were given shelter and assistance by the villagers. Under the noses of the German occupiers, they lived in Villeret for 18 months, masquerading as villagers. Relationships between the French peasants and the British soldiers grew strong. Digby fell in love with Claire Dessenne, the 19-year-old daughter of one of his protectors. In November 1915 Claire gave birth to Digby's daughter. Six months later someone in the village betrayed the men to the Germans. Digby and three others were captured, tried as spies and executed by firing squad. Digby's daughter, now in her 80s, still lives in northern France. Using her memories and those of other villagers, archive material and a handful of surviving letters by Digby (including one written to Claire only hours before his execution), Macintyre has produced a real-life story of the First World War as poignant and moving as Sebastian Faulks's novel Birdsong. -- Nick RennisonReview:
‘ Stirring, ambitious and profound, storytelling at its very best... this ranks as one of the books of the year’ -- STUART WAVELL, Sunday Times
‘A page-turning mystery and a spy story worthy of Deighton or le Carré… I loved it.’ -- LYN MACDONALD, The Times
‘The book gives the taste and smell of village life in the [First World War]... I was fascinated’ -- JOHN ARDAGH, Evening Standard
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Book Description HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS LTD, 2001. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0002571226