This book is the story of Albert Simpkin, a dispatch rider during the First World War. Experienced motorcyclists were required to deliver messages to senior officers during the conflict. Albert joined up and as soon as you became a dispatch rider (DR) you were promoted to Corporal; this rank enabled you to talk to officers.
Some of the DRs he worked with were not very good riders. Riding at night with no lights and trying to miss the shell holes often led to them ending up in ditches. On a good day Albert could ride over 100 miles delivering dispatches. This roving role enabled him to see much more than the men in trenches or those manning the guns saw. He also came into contact more with the local population and their good and bad times during this period.
‘Sergeant Albert Simpkin MM’s Great War diary is of unusual scope and exceptional interest. Albert was a First World War motorcycle despatch rider attached to the Headquarters 37th Division throughout the war which he was so fortunate to survive.
‘His diary entries and some longer descriptions of the main actions of the Division provide a graphic record of the war on the Western Front. Albert was a gifted observer of the scene and a fluent writer. The fact he was awarded the Military Medal is testimony to his bravery. Throughout the diary are colourful and amusing anecdotes about his fellow soldiers, and critical comments on the strategies and tactics employed by the officers.’
Whilst some parts of the book are grim, there are also some light-hearted moments. For instance, when one of our planes crash-landed and the wing was knocked off, the pilot simply sent a message to his unit asking for a hammer and some nails to be sent so that he could fix it!
The book is edited by David Venner, who happens to be Albert’s great nephew, and he has made a first class effort of piecing together his uncle’s notes to make a brilliant read. If you are interested in the Great War, motorcycles and other forms of transport then I recommend this book to you.
‘Despatch Rider on the Western Front 1915-1918: The Diary of Sergeant Albert Simpkin MM’ is published by Pen & Sword Military at £12.99
RC reviewer: Roy Workman