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The Englishman's Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War One Hardcover – January 12, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (January 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374129851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374129859
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #437,552 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Innumerable soldiers were stranded behind enemy lines in World War I some injured, some lost, some sole survivors of decimated regiments. Macintyre (The Napoleon of Crime) has uncovered the story of a small band of English soldiers who, in 1914, were found and sheltered by the peasants of Villeret, a small French village near the Somme River. When the German occupiers became more intrusive in local life, billeting their troops in private homes and confiscating supplies, the French took a more collective approach to hiding the Brits sharing their food and housing among a network of families. One soldier was hidden in an armoire, another dressed as a girl; somehow, most did their best and eventually passed themselves off as locals. Private Robert Digby, the hero of this tale, blended in so successfully "It's almost like he was running for mayor," said one villager that he fell in love with the local belle, Claire Dessenne. At first, hiding the British was a unifying act of resistance, but by 1916, after years of hunger and occupation, solidarity broke. The four remaining British soldiers including Digby, now the father of young H‚lŠne Dessenne were rounded up and executed. Who turned them in? Claire's spurned rival? A spy turned informer? While Macintyre is satisfyingly thorough in his attempt to solve this long-buried mystery, he is even better at recreating the texture of day-to-day life in rural, occupied France. As readers grope with understanding our present war, they may find this more remote one oddly instructive. Weapons may change, but it's the people some treacherous, some brave, but most of them in between who count. B&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Ed Victor. (Jan.)Forecast: This title has the potential to break out of the war genre; fans of Michael Ondaatje and Jayne Ann Phillips should enjoy this tale of love and its consequences.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

"War forges a few heroes and villains, but often it thrusts ordinary, frail people into a moral no-man's-land, forcing upon them choices or compromises they could never have anticipated." So it was for the townspeople of Villeret, France, who chose to hide a group of British soldiers caught behind enemy lines during World War I. It's a magnificent story and a stirring reminder that in times of war, bravery and self-sacrifice are not limited to the battlefield. Macintyre (The Napoleon of Crime) focuses on a variety of gripping details: the occupying Germans' powerful fears of treachery, which led them to forbid all manner of activity, from hanging out laundry to barking dogs; the love affair between a young French girl and a British soldier; and, most of all, the courage and self-sacrifice of the townspeople, who risked their lives on a daily basis to hide these young soldiers. The book has some surprising twists that include such pure examples of love, betrayal, honor, and sacrifice that it is easy to forget that the story is absolutely true. Recommended for all libraries. Amy Strong, South Portland, ME
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

BEN MACINTYRE is writer-at-large and associate editor of the Times of London. He is the author of Agent Zigzag, The Man Who Would Be King, The Englishman's Daughter, The Napoleon of Crime, and Forgotten Fatherland. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist Kate Muir, and their three children.

Customer Reviews

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Robert Digby, is one of the central characters of this true story.
Amazon Customer
Their impact upon Villeret during their 18-month stay is profound as one of the soldiers, Robert Digby, falls in love with a young French woman.
Glenn Miller
At great risk to themselves, the villagers kept the British hidden (often in the same houses billeted with Germans)and fed.
J. Crutcher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The woman being searched for could be either THE ENGLISHMAN'S DAUGHTER herself - an old French woman named Helene, whose father - Pvt. Robert Digby, is one of the central characters of this true story. Digby was an English soldier serving in France in 1914 during WWI. Or the author could be looking for the identity of the woman in the French song known by all the people of Villeret. A woman "so jealous and wicked" as one verse says, that she betrayed Digby and three other allied soldiers to the Germans. All four men were promptly executed. Three others managed to escape to Britain.
The villagers had initial success in hiding these seven soldiers, first in the nearby forest then in outlying buildings. The author - Ben Macintyre - clearly shows that the villagers had contrasting emotions. Honor and pride in hosting and looking after their guests, yet also trepidation and fear from recognition of the great risk that they were taking. As time passed it was decided to cease hiding the men and to try and incorporate them into village life. Macintyre creates an almost palpable sense of danger when writing that the villagers "set about the courageous but daunting task of turning these English and Irish soldiers into northern French peasants." Danger only grew as time stretched to two years. The year 1916 saw an increase in the German presence and the harsh rules of occupation enforced by the German commandant Major Karl Evers made the situation very trying indeed.
Poignancy enters by way of the ultimately doomed romance between Digby and Claire Dessenne, a beautiful young villager. Helene was the result but the cost was great.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In 1997, Ben Macintyre, as Paris correspondent for _The Times_ of London, was called to a little village in Picardy. He was reluctant; the story was only that of a dedication of a plaque commemorating the execution by the Germans in World War I of four British soldiers who for two years had been hidden within the village of Villeret. He endured "God Save the Queen" excruciatingly played by the band from the local mental health institution, a decrepit honor guard, and some parochial proclamations of self-importance. One old, old lady in a wheelchair cornered the British representative to tell him how seven British soldiers had been protected by the village, and three had eventually escaped to Britain, and four had been shot. "That was in 1916," she explained. "I was six months old... Those seven British soldiers were our soldiers. One of them was my father."
Thus began Macintyre's research into a tragic romance, which he reports in _The Englishman's Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I_ (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). It is a sad and almost forgotten episode from the first terrifying days of The Great War, and though he has had to rely on stories filtered through the generations, faulty memories and incomplete records, Macintyre has been able to bring out a fine story of ordinary people within the village. They are not very great heroes and not very great villains, just rustics trying to live through an intolerable situation. Private Robert Digby, along with seven other soldiers, was hidden by the villagers in a conscientious show of resistance. During the two years hiding, fell in love with the prettiest girl in the village, who bore him a daughter.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Richard Kurtz on March 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book but was somewhat disappointed. I recognize how difficult it must be to write a non-fiction book about events that took place 80+ years ago..but somehow this book left me somewhat unsatisfied...it's as if McIntyre may have been better off writing it as a novel and taking more poetic license to make the story and the relatiosnhip between Robert and Claire and Robert and his fellow soldier-fugitives more dynamic and dramatic....I also felt that there was quite a bit of "filler" -- somewaht extraneous material of a general nature....but I liked it ..just didn't love it...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ironmike on December 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
This little gem is well researched and well written by an author who tells the tale of a group of British soldiers trapped behind German lines in 1914. The people of a small village, Villeret near the Somme River harbor the men for nearly two years as the Germans press the search for them and other British stragglers. An outstanding tale of love, romance, danger, narrow escapes and brutal suppression by the Germans and it is all true. Finally, after many long months of brutal treatment by the Germans, someone in the village betrays the British. Who betrays them and why? Read the book. You will not be disapointed by this one. A film just waiting to happen.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Nickles on February 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Somehow I stumbled upon this great work of non-fiction and true to its word, it was certainly a story of love and betrayal in WWI. MacIntyre brought not only the characters to life with flowing descriptions and actions, but also the town itself. While the town was not on the front line, it was near enough to it to see the horrors of war. The mystery of who killed Robert Digby is answered in the end, but it is the middle that is most satisfying, details of his love affair, and the ability of British soldiers to blend into rural France. A true gem!
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