3 out of 4 stars
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So, back when I took history in secondary school, there was an emphasis on primary sources being the best kind that you could get your hands on. Anything from letters to journal entries to eyewitness accounts was viewed as being this sort of treasured resource that could enhance the veracity of your work.
It’s why I practically jumped at the chance to read Alasdair Douglas-Hamilton’s Devoted Lyon. More than anything else, this work is a compendium of Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Bowes Lyon’s letters and journal entries throughout a long and service-filled life. As his grandson, Douglas-Hamilton has compiled his grandfather’s papers into a chronological time capsule of Britain and the lives of the aristocratic class in an era long gone.
The book documents his childhood, his time as a soldier, and his time as a civilian worker during three consecutive wars (the Boer War, World War I, and World War II). We see Malcolm go from being the sixth son of the Bowes Lyons to a war hero and an established gentleman over the span of his life. This would come to include his marriage to wife Winnifred and the birth of his only child, as well as his service in different parts of the British Empire. As such, the book offers a rich, detailed look at the state of the world at the time.
Despite all else, I liked this aspect, so I didn’t hesitate to award the book 3 out of 4 stars. It does, however, have its problems. This would come to include issues with formatting, several grammatical errors, and the level of detail offered by Malcolm’s letters and journal entries.
Regarding the latter, this was particularly egregious because of how repetitive the entries often became. For example, he would go shooting several times a year. So, the author felt it necessary to include not just every occasion but the exact number of game shot as well. While this was useful for showing the decline in game post-World War II, it made it harder to get through the book.
This would also apply to the number of visits and trips mentioned as the level of pure minutiae was difficult to read. While I’m not opposed to this normally, it often felt like I was reading the same passage over and over again. It was also hard to follow and made retaining information difficult.
This was also a problem with how the information in the book was presented. Several names would be introduced without explanation in the author’s commentary, so it was hard to determine who was related to whom at times. For example, late in the book, there was someone referred to as Lilibet that I had trouble placing as Queen Elizabeth II until it was later mentioned. This would also be a problem with regard to determining who was related to Malcolm by blood or by marriage.
The inclusion of a family tree made it easier to keep track of everything. Though, placing it at the end of the book rendered it too little too late. It meant that I had to flip back and forth just to make several connections.
That being said, I still rated it as high as I did because I loved the historical aspect of the book. As a piece of British history, it gave valuable insight into how soldiers and civilians were affected by nearly a century of war in one way or another. It was also useful in looking at how things have changed regarding the world at large.
If you love history and personal anecdotes, I suggest reading this. It’s rich with detail and minutiae, though that may sometimes be to its disadvantage. Still, it kept me reading and interested in the daily lives of Malcolm Bowes Lyon and his family.
Happy reading everyone!
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