A Boy from Botwood: Pte. A.W. Manuel, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1914-1919 by Bryan DaviesA Boy from Botwood: Pte. A.W. Manuel, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1914-1919 by Bryan Davies

A Boy from Botwood: Pte. A.W. Manuel, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1914-1919

byBryan Davies, Andrew Traficante

Paperback | January 21, 2017

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A proud Newfoundland soldier's memoir gives unprecedented details of life as a German POW during the First World War.

I'm going to tell my story. With those words, eighty-three-year-old Arthur Manuel set his remarkable First World War memoir in motion.

Like many Great War veterans, Manuel had never discussed his wartime life with anyone. Hidden in the Manuel family records until its 2011 discovery by his grandson David Manuel, Arthur's story is now brought to new life.

Determined to escape his impoverished rural Newfoundland existence, he enlisted with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in late 1914. His harrowing accounts of life under fire span the Allies' ill-fated 1915 Gallipoli campaign, the Regiment's 1916 near-destruction at Beaumont-Hamel, and his 1917 Passchendaele battlefield capture. Manuel's account of his seventeen-month POW experience, including his nearly successful escape from a German forced labour camp, provides unique, compelling Great War insights.

Powerful memories undimmed by age shine through Manuel's lucid prose. His visceral hatred of war, and of the leaders on both sides who permitted such senseless carnage to continue, is ferocious yet tempered by Manuel's powerful affection for common soldiers like himself, German and Allied alike. This poignant, angry, witty, and provocative account rings true like no other.
Bryan Davies is a writer, commentator, and creative works consultant. Author of several hundred articles spanning history, law, sport, and politics, in 2013 he and Andrew Traficante co-founded Tagona Creative, a successful Canadian creative-works incubator. Bryan is also a founding partner with United Front Entertainment, a Canadian fi...
Title:A Boy from Botwood: Pte. A.W. Manuel, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1914-1919Format:PaperbackProduct dimensions:176 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.5 inShipping dimensions:9 × 6 × 0.5 inPublished:January 21, 2017Publisher:DundurnLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1459736710

ISBN - 13:9781459736719


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read An accessible and thought provoking WWI memoir. A different history than want is in other history textbooks.
Date published: 2017-08-22

Read from the Book

Chapter OneBotwood, 1908When I had reached what my teacher said would be the equivalent of the seventh grade in a regular public school, my poor dear old father, with tears in his eyes and his voice filled with emotion, broke the bad news he could no longer afford to pay any further tuition fees. I was twelve years old at the time, but I sobbed myself to sleep that night. Next day I began work in a sawmill, where I received the magnificent sum of fifty cents - not fifty cents an hour, but fifty cents a day. The workdays were ten hours long in those days and included Saturdays. We worked a full sixty hours each and every week, fifty-two weeks a year. Christmas and Good Friday were the only two so-called holidays, but we weren't paid for either. My first job at the mill was carrying wet and heavy water-soaked lumber from the saws to the drying yard, two hundred feet away or more. It was work that in most civilized countries was performed only by trucks and horses. When I had been there for about a year or so, one of the owners came over from England to look the place over. I suppose that because of my age, he came out to where I was stacking the lumber and asked me a whole lot of questions. He wanted to know whether or not I had attended school and for how long; how many brothers and sisters I had; what kind of work my father did for a living; and if I intended to remain on the Island, or to migrate to the U.S.A. or Canada, as most of the young Newfoundland people were doing. He took both my hands in his, turned them palms up, and began prodding at them with his thumb, but they were so thoroughly and deeply calloused from the friction of so many planks sliding through my hands day after day that the prodding could barely be felt. "Why don't you wear gloves?" he inquired. "Because I can't afford them," I replied. "Oh yes, that is so," he said, "and something must be done about it. I have been talking with your foreman and he tells me that you are a very hard and conscientious worker, so I am going to ask the manager to increase your salary." Oh boy, for the next couple of weeks, I was walking on air with my head in the clouds. But when payday came at the end of the month and I was told by the big, fat, pot-bellied Scandinavian manager that Mr. Crowe (the owner) had only recommended a ten-cent per day raise in my wages and in future I would be paid the grand total of sixty cents per day, I could not believe my ears. Whether he was lying or not, I had no way of knowing. In any case, there was nothing I could do about it as there were plenty of others, both men and boys, waiting to take the job if I dared to make a complaint. After two years, I was sent by the mill bosses to mine some limestone for the Grand Falls Paper Company.1 The father of the woman I boarded with during my six weeks stay there was ninety-three years old - he had never seen a genuine banknote of any description prior to his eighty-fourth birthday. He told me that for his entire catch of fish during the year prior to his retirement, he was paid a mere one dollar per quintal.2 Therefore, he received less than one cent per pound for the very same kind of sun-cured codfish that I have paid as much as $3.98 per pound for today. We poor old Newfies, as the mainlanders call us, always get the small end of the stick and more often than not, the dirty end as well. There were no modern, quick, frozen-fish plants in those days, where an independent fisherman could sell and be paid for his quota of fish on the day it was caught. It took a whole summer, or the better part of one, to prepare fish for the market. From catching, cleaning, and curing the fish, a monotonous, back-breaking routine was followed day after day until the entire summer catch had been processed and made ready for market. In the meantime, the poor individual family fisherman was required to buy everything he needs in the line of food, clothing, and fishing supplies, from the multi-millionaire merchants who bought his fish. Like the poor, hard-working miners and lumber mill men, he was robbed on both counts. Our life was relentlessly hard, whether a family lived from the land, the woods, the mines, or the sea. In a way it prepared me for starvation and near-death when I was a prisoner of war. Sharing with others the little I had was neither new nor unusual. To borrow, loan, or give outright had been, for a high percentage of the people belonging to England's oldest, poorest, and most neglected colony, a regular and recognized way of life. Down through the centuries, our neighbours had always been our one and only insurance (as we were theirs) against both hunger and disaster. None of our people ever felt embarrassed or inferior when circumstances beyond our control compelled us to seek help from our neighbours. It was an accepted and confirmed way of life at that time, and in all probability, in the far northern section of Newfoundland where I was born, it still is to some extent. This would be particularly so during the long winter months when, due to the ice and stormy weather, ships (still the only means of transportation to some of the northern towns) are forced to remain in port. In my childhood days back home, if one of the villagers shot a moose, caribou, or any other kind of game, he never embarrassed his neighbours by asking if they wanted some. He simply cut it up into equal portions and delivered it to the various homes as though they had all bought and paid for it. In a sense, they had, for next time it would be their turn to keep the account sheet in balance. While no community of people were ever more dependent on each other than were those of the little outports where I was born and grew up, the words dole, relief, welfare, or any kind of government handout as it is generally understood today, were altogether foreign and totally without meaning to our people. Admittedly, we were poor and by today's standard of living, we would be considered very poor indeed. Nevertheless, nobody ever went hungry (at least not for long) and we prided ourselves on being one of the nation's most free and independent people.3Despite our lack of riches and luxury, we were content to make do with what we had. I would say that it was just another case of "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." In other words, what one has never had, one has never missed. Perhaps our biggest and most important consolation was the fact that we were all in the same boat together. There were no Joneses to keep up to, nor to envy. Although without choice, we were an absolute 100 percent classless society - not that I would recommend it for others, or that I would prefer to live it all over again myself. Speaking of the devil - our newspaper boy just handed me the morning paper, and one of the headlines on the front page reads, "A family of four with an income of less than seventeen thousand is living on or below the poverty line." Good God, I thought, that is as much or more than my dear old father made during his entire lifetime of eighty-eight years, and he fathered a family of twelve .4---These piecemeal Botwood recollections are ones that Manuel regularly intersperses among his Great War accounts. These memories reveal the practical reasons why he was quick to enlist with the RNR when war was declared in August 1914. Manuel had worked in a variety of difficult, often dangerous jobs for very little pay. The army promised a uniform, regular meals, better pay, and adventure - powerful lures for the rural and outport Newfoundlanders for whom the description hardscrabble would be appreciated as an understatement. And, after all, the British political leadership and their Newfoundland representatives assured the newly enlisted colonials that the war would be over by Christmas. The ceaseless, hard-grinding Botwood life could be suspended, if only for a time. It would be a shame to miss the fun.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Botwood, 1908
Chapter 2: St. John's, August 1914
Chapter 3: Gallipoli, Spring 1915
Chapter 4: Beaumont Hamel, July 1916
Chapter 5: England, Autumn 1917
Chapter 6: Passchendaele, August 1917
Chapter 7: Prisoner of War, October 1917
Chapter 8: Bavaria, January 1918
Chapter 9: Armistice, November 1918

Editorial Reviews

A compelling and highly recommended true-life war story. - Midwest Book Review