Prose & Poetry - Frank Richards

"Old Soldiers Never Die", written by Frank Richards Frank Richards (1883-1961) - real name Francis Philip Woodruff - was the author of perhaps the finest memoir of the Great War to be written by a ranker, Old Soldiers Never Die.

Richards, an orphan, was brought up by his aunt and uncle in Monmouthshire where, in the 1890s, he worked as a coalminer.  He joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in April 1901 and served in India and Burma from 1902-09 when, having completed his seven years with the colours, he transferred to the reserves.  However he extended his service for a further four years until 1912.

A reservist soldier when war broke out in August 1914, working as a timber assistant, Richards was soon re-attached to the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, in which he remained for the duration of the war.

Remarkably, Richards saw action in virtually all of the major British campaigns on the Western Front without suffering any notable injury.

Unable to return to the coalmines following the war because of a physical injury, Richards was obliged to earn his living from numerous temporary jobs.

Fifteen years after the close of the war, Richards published in 1933 his classic account of the war from the standpoint of the regular soldier, and which differs in many ways from memoirs written by officers who joined the army specifically to serve in the war.

Old Soldiers Never Die, written with the uncredited assistance of Robert Graves (who, along with Siegfried Sassoon, receives approving mentions in the book), was an instant success.

Richards followed up Old Soldiers with another successful memoir, this time of his service in India, Old Soldier Sahib, in 1936.

Richards, who at no point rose above the rank of private during the war, was awarded the DCM and MM.  He was interviewed by the BBC for their classic multi-part documentary of the conflict, The Great War, in 1954.

Frank Richards, who continued to correspond regularly with Robert Graves, died in 1961 at the age of 78.

Britain introduced conscription for the first time on 2 February 1916.

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Prose & Poetry