First published in March 1934; second edition in 1935
Facsimile reprinted: Naval and Military Press, Uckfield, East Sussex
one of the original three founder members of The Fountain Club, at the age of fifty, started his life all over again, married, gave up medicine and went to live in Sussex, wrote books about pirates, birds and compiled several biographies. He wrote this book about his experiences in the First World War more than a decade after it had ended. This edition it an exact reprint of the original now that it is no longer in copyright. It was re-issued by Penguin in the Second World War under the more accurate and attractive title of 'A Naturalist Goes to War' and post-war as a hard back.
Philip went to Bart's and 'eventually qualified'. He was a country GP at Beaulieu in the New Forest until war was declared. He had a few patients but during that time he 'ringed' many thousands of wild birds for migration inquiry. The memoirs are not set down from memory but from a box full of letters that he wrote to his parents during the war and his naturalists note book about the birds and beasts that he encountered on the Western Front and in India. He was 35 years old and Territorial Army officer when he was mobilised in in August 1914.
As a retired Royal Army Medical Corps officer, I was a little disappointed at first reading as there was a lot about warblers and wagtails, but not a lot about wounds and warfare. On reflection and re-reading I realised that he viewed the war with a naturalist’s eye. The wildlife were his distraction therapy that kept him sane. He viewed his fellow officers especially those of the RAMC, objectively with compassion, admiration or contempt. He had an extraordinary wartime career.
As a medical officer in a field ambulance he had periods of spare time between his daily duties which were shared with other officers, and intense activity when battles were going on. Regimental Medical Officers were fully employed looking after hundreds of men in and out of the trenches. He was able to dissect small mammals and birds in his spare time and send the specimens to the National History Museum in London. He found a new species of small rodent and it was named after him. There was a plague of rats infesting the trenches and feasting on food debris and the corpses of men and horses. Because of his reputation as an expert on small mammals, he was made 'Rat Control Officer' of the First Army.
Then he was posted to India where he pursued his hobby of collecting mammals and birds with enthusiasm and had a new species of bat named after him. He describes being a patient in hospital with recurrent fever on a couple of occasions. His description of garrison life in India, which seemed untouched by the war, is critical; unfortunately some Regular Army Officers treated Territorial and wartime officers with disdain. Philip volunteered to stay in India for a while to allow others to be demobilised first as by then he had no practice left to go back to, but he was the only one posted back to England, via Macedonia and Italy with his twenty crates of specimens.
This is a really interesting book about one of our founding members. I really liked it and it can be bought on line as a paperback.