'Ella darling, There are things I have concealed from you up till now that I think you ought to know; things that have turned me from a different person from the Ronald you know.' So, in April 1918, Ronald Skirth, a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Artillery, wrote to his sweetheart, back in England. A year before, Skirth, then just nineteen years old, had been sent to fight on the Western Front. This is his story, the story of a young man who went to war a devoted servant of King and country and returned utterly convinced that war, all war, was wrong and who acted upon his convictions, making a pact with God that he would not kill. This riveting memoir was written fifty years after the end of the war, drawing on his own contemporary diary entries and letters home. Never published before, it affords a vivid, moving and surprising insight into that most dreadful of conflicts.
Ronald Skirth was born in 1897. When he left home to fight in the First World War he was nineteen years old. He served on the Western and Italian fronts, returning home in 1919 after the war had ended. He married his teenage sweetheart Ella in 1924 and their daughter Jean was born five years later. Skirth worked as a teacher until his retirement in 1958 and in 1971 set to work on what was intended to be a brief account of his early romance with Ella, their separation by war and their reunion two years later. In the intervening fifty-three years he had never spoken of his war experiences and as he wrote they soon began to get the better of him. He filled hundreds of pages with his handwritten account, plus the postcards, letters and documents which he had kept for more than half a century. The resulting memoir, on which The Reluctant Tommy, published by Macmillan in 2010, is based, was donated to the Imperial War Museum by his daughter Jean after his death in 1977. Duncan Barrett is a writer and editor. He grew up in London and studied English at Jesus College, Cambridge. He is the co-author of Star Trek: The Human Frontier with his mother Michele, whose research into shell-shocked survivors of the First World War introduced him to Ronald Skirth's story. He recently edited Vitali Vitaliev's Passport to Enclavia and was Assistant Editor of Bobby Baker: Redeeming Features of Daily Life. He also works as an actor and theatre director.