Long Lawford man inspired by harrowing family history to write novel depicting a First World War Tommy's life

Jason was moved to write the book after learning of an ancestor who was killed in bitter fighting at Arras in 1917

Jason Cobley.
Jason Cobley.
Jason Cobley.

A Long Lawford resident has written a novel depicting the life of a British infantry soldier during the First World War after being inspired by the harrowing story of his ancestor, who was killed in 1917.

And in researching for and writing the novel 'A Hundred Years to Arras', Jason Cobley gained a fascinating insight into what the war was like for the thousands of ordinary young men who fought in it.

The book has already had a very positive reception, with Philip Gwynne Jones, author of 'The Venetian Legacy' describing it as: "An elegy for a world swept away by the horrors of the First World War. A book written with so much love; beautifully written and deeply moving."

Jason spoke with the Advertiser on how the book came about, and some of the key issues it explores.

He said: "This is the story of Robert’s journey to Arras and back, his dreams and memories drawing him home.

"His story is that of the working-class Tommy, the story of thousands of young men who were caught in the collision between old rural values and the relentlessness of a new kind of war.

"It is a story that connects the past with the present through land, love, and blood.

"I come from a large Welsh family and they didn't really talk about this sort of thing.

"It was only when my dad died that my aunt started talking about an ancestor who came from Somerset and fought in the Battle of Arras in 1917.

"He was killed in the fighting, and the family lore is that his parents were so devastated with his death that they drank themselves to death.

"I set about researching his life and military record and vowed to be able to stand at his grave in France on the hundredth anniversary of his death. In 2017, I did that very thing."

Jason discovered much about the young soldier - he had worked as a farm labourer in Somerset and had joined the Somerset Light Infantry.

But while Jason could find many of the basic details, he was left wanting to find a way to recount the daily lives of British soldiers during the war.

To that end, Jason researched the topic heavily and decided to use this research, and the basic facts of his ancestor's service during the war, to write a fictionalised account of the everyday life of the British Tommy.

Jason said he made several discoveries in the course of his research.

He said: "Many of the young men who fought had been working in agriculture.

"They had had gone from working on the land in England to, sadly in many cases, being buried under it in battlefields."

Jason said the first war holds a huge amount of interest for him because it forms a key part of British history, because the hundreds of thousands of people who fought in it.

These young soldiers were changed forever, and when they came home they changed society.

He said: "I think this time interests people a lot because it's emblematic of a huge change to this country, things were never the same again."

Jason has a background in the mental health field, and one of the focuses of the book is how its characters cope with both the trauma - and the boredom - of war.

"There was little recognition of the impact of war on mental health at the time, it was only towards the end of the war that phrases like 'trauma' and 'PTSD' began to be used.

"The attitude at the time was very much 'get on with it'.

"In one scene in the book a doctor at a military hospital begins talking about trauma and he is very dismissive of it all.

"In another scene the central character sees a firing squad, and the whole thing seems pointless to him, and I look at how he found ways to cope with that.

"Having worked on a farm, he manages to deal with things by finding a connection with the nature around him.

"We are now a lot better at recognising and diagnosing mental health issues.

"I think if we ever saw anything like the First World War again there would be a lot more concern for the trauma it would cause - perhaps too much in some circumstances."

Jason also discovered that for many soldiers, boredom was a regular companion - with long periods where there would be nothing to do but wait for the next attack.

"Regiments recognised this, and the Somerset Light Infantry devised all sorts of sporting events," he said.

One of Jason's chief hopes for the book is that it will help people to learn from the mistakes of the past.

"We aren't very good at learning from history," he said.

"We see so many things happening today that have happened before, I think we all need to pay attention to the past."

The book is to be released on August 19 and it should be available in most bookshops, including Hunt's in Rugby.