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Last Man Standing: The Memoirs, Letters & Photographs of a Teenage Officer

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It hardly seems credible today that a nineteen-year-old boy, just commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders, could lead a platoon of men into the carnage of the Battle of the Somme. Or that, as the machine gun bullets whistled past and shells exploded, he could maintain his own morale to lead a platoon, keeping its discipline and cohesion, in spite of desperate losses. No It hardly seems credible today that a nineteen-year-old boy, just commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders, could lead a platoon of men into the carnage of the Battle of the Somme. Or that, as the machine gun bullets whistled past and shells exploded, he could maintain his own morale to lead a platoon, keeping its discipline and cohesion, in spite of desperate losses. Norman Collins, the author of this superb memoir, was this remarkable man.Despite being wounded three times, Norman lived to see his hundredth birthday so becoming one of the last surviving combatants of this terrible conflict. Through his eloquent memories recorded late in life and a rare collection of letters that he wrote from the front, he tells the story of his life as a young subaltern at the front during 1916 and 1917. Using Norman’s own words, this book follows him from his childhood in Hartlepool to his subsequent service in France. The book also covers such shattering events as the German naval assault on Hartlepool in December 1914 when, as a seventeen-year-old, Norman was subjected to as big a bombardment as any occurring on the Western Front at that time.Norman’s enlistment and training are covered in detail in his letters, as is his posting to France and the epic attack at Beaumont Hamel in November 1916. Service at Arras in April 1917 and in the weeks prior to the Third Battle for Ypres is also recorded before serious injury hospitalized him for a year.Norman’s love for, and devotion to, the men under his command shine out in this book and his stories are gripping and deeply moving. They are illustrated by a rare collection of private photographs taken at or near the front by Norman himself, although the use of a camera was strictly proscribed by the Army. Most of the images have never been published before.


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It hardly seems credible today that a nineteen-year-old boy, just commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders, could lead a platoon of men into the carnage of the Battle of the Somme. Or that, as the machine gun bullets whistled past and shells exploded, he could maintain his own morale to lead a platoon, keeping its discipline and cohesion, in spite of desperate losses. No It hardly seems credible today that a nineteen-year-old boy, just commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders, could lead a platoon of men into the carnage of the Battle of the Somme. Or that, as the machine gun bullets whistled past and shells exploded, he could maintain his own morale to lead a platoon, keeping its discipline and cohesion, in spite of desperate losses. Norman Collins, the author of this superb memoir, was this remarkable man.Despite being wounded three times, Norman lived to see his hundredth birthday so becoming one of the last surviving combatants of this terrible conflict. Through his eloquent memories recorded late in life and a rare collection of letters that he wrote from the front, he tells the story of his life as a young subaltern at the front during 1916 and 1917. Using Norman’s own words, this book follows him from his childhood in Hartlepool to his subsequent service in France. The book also covers such shattering events as the German naval assault on Hartlepool in December 1914 when, as a seventeen-year-old, Norman was subjected to as big a bombardment as any occurring on the Western Front at that time.Norman’s enlistment and training are covered in detail in his letters, as is his posting to France and the epic attack at Beaumont Hamel in November 1916. Service at Arras in April 1917 and in the weeks prior to the Third Battle for Ypres is also recorded before serious injury hospitalized him for a year.Norman’s love for, and devotion to, the men under his command shine out in this book and his stories are gripping and deeply moving. They are illustrated by a rare collection of private photographs taken at or near the front by Norman himself, although the use of a camera was strictly proscribed by the Army. Most of the images have never been published before.

30 review for Last Man Standing: The Memoirs, Letters & Photographs of a Teenage Officer

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve Scott

    I didn't care for it at first, but the book grew on me. It starts off slowly, but by page 135 or so Collins' horrific experiences at the front start coming through, though not in the letters he writes home. Most of these are from his diary or interviews with him in later years, and they're terribly poignant. Collins says: "On the day of the Armistice I was on leave....Incredibly the war was over, but my one thought was ‘It’s too late – all my friends are gone – it’s too late. It’s no good having I didn't care for it at first, but the book grew on me. It starts off slowly, but by page 135 or so Collins' horrific experiences at the front start coming through, though not in the letters he writes home. Most of these are from his diary or interviews with him in later years, and they're terribly poignant. Collins says: "On the day of the Armistice I was on leave....Incredibly the war was over, but my one thought was ‘It’s too late – all my friends are gone – it’s too late. It’s no good having an Armistice now.’ I had a vision, and I was standing in a trench. I could not put my head up because I was under fire, but above me, at eye level, walking past were hundreds and hundreds of boots and puttees. I thought of all those I had known; it was like a panorama of passing people, people from the cadet battalion, through the various training courses and out in France. They went on and on for hours, and I realised it was the dead all walking away and leaving me behind. I felt worried and frightened that they were leaving me by myself; that I had been left behind. They were marching away into the distance, where I would never follow. All the people I knew had gone, except me. That was a vivid dream and I dreamt it on many occasions, although I never told anyone until I was a very old man, because I felt it was a private matter between my old comrades and myself. It was a most intense feeling and it remained so." The editor notes: "Norman returned to France for the one and only time 14 April 1989, two days before his 92nd birthday. He was unconcerned about such a visit even given his great age; on the contrary, he noted in his taped diary that ‘I would consider it amusing, if I were able to, if I passed out 73 years after the battle on the same spot where I should have passed on at 19 years of age. I’m sure I would be greeted by cries of ‘Late on parade, Sir?’"

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rick B.H. Ghost

    Good book, history of 2 well known regiments the Seaforth's and Argyll's. Facts of a youth who starts as a cadet and progresses through the ranks and faces the changes that come with war. My main interest in this book is through WW II, I had two relatives, one in the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. I was taken down to the Seaforth's by my Grandfather the age of 14 and joined but due to life changes I never got the chance to follow in his footsteps. Good book, history of 2 well known regiments the Seaforth's and Argyll's. Facts of a youth who starts as a cadet and progresses through the ranks and faces the changes that come with war. My main interest in this book is through WW II, I had two relatives, one in the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. I was taken down to the Seaforth's by my Grandfather the age of 14 and joined but due to life changes I never got the chance to follow in his footsteps.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David Devine

    A good book to read to gain insight into life in the trenches during WW I. Considering when the book was put together at such a late point in Norman's life, he still had an amazing recall of his life in his late teens and early twenties. A good book to read to gain insight into life in the trenches during WW I. Considering when the book was put together at such a late point in Norman's life, he still had an amazing recall of his life in his late teens and early twenties.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chad Mistele

    Interesting combination of letters, interviews, and editor notes to give an insight into WWI.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Adrianne Lahar

    A good soldier Good book of one man's experience. Unfortunately for the reader he tends to minimize his battle experience and writes much about training and his wound recovery. He rendered fine service but the book lacks excitement for significant periods. Other men may have had more adventures to recount. Unfortunately they died before 1919. A good soldier Good book of one man's experience. Unfortunately for the reader he tends to minimize his battle experience and writes much about training and his wound recovery. He rendered fine service but the book lacks excitement for significant periods. Other men may have had more adventures to recount. Unfortunately they died before 1919.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nicola Eves

    This is fascinating as it is the actual thoughts of Norman as he thought them from the letters he wrote to his parents and brother. It is interspersed with reflections from Norman as a 90+ year old and historical context from the editor. Very moving and a great historical source. Great read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Excellent account of a young British officer's life in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 that was fought during World War I. Excellent account of a young British officer's life in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 that was fought during World War I.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Incredible and harrowing insight into life as a soldier in France during WWI. Couldn't put it down. Incredible and harrowing insight into life as a soldier in France during WWI. Couldn't put it down.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    A thought-provoking book that gives one a real insight into the life of a young soldier in WW1.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Flynn

    A most thought provoking book - I truly wish I would have had the chance to meet this man.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Canckorn

  12. 4 out of 5

    Penelope

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Walker

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emma Short

  15. 5 out of 5

    janet foord

  16. 5 out of 5

    mary linton

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adam Featherston

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Brewton

  19. 4 out of 5

    GORDON K LEASK

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dave Coffing

  21. 5 out of 5

    Richard Bunning

  22. 5 out of 5

    roger charlesworth

  23. 5 out of 5

    Randall Higgins

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  25. 5 out of 5

    L W DICKERSON

  26. 4 out of 5

    Richard Edward Otto Quitmann

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jonno

  28. 5 out of 5

    DL

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Donovan

  30. 5 out of 5

    david thomson

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