Obituary: Lyn Macdonald, historian who became famous as the “ recording angel of the common soldier ”

Died: March 1, 2021.

LYN MACDONALD, who died at the age of 91, has written an acclaimed series of intricately documented WWI books, focusing on people who lived through the true horrors of the trenches. She recounted their daily lives with seductive and sympathetic understanding.

Historians had already written about the great strategic tactics of the High Command. Not Macdonald. She wrote about Tommy’s first-hand experiences after speaking with hundreds of surviving veterans.

In her books, she brought insight and understanding of many personal memories: with good reason, she was often known as “the recording angel of the ordinary soldier”.

She said of her own approach: “My intention is to tap into the heartbeat of the experience of people who have been through it.”

All his books, opened at random, contained quotes that spoke of the terrible truth of war. “We passed two Germans (they were barely over 17), clinging to each other and crying, apparently unable to move,” recalls a second lieutenant. “I motioned for them to come home with the prisoners, but they could only watch and moan, completely shattered by the terrible explosion of shellfire that had passed them.”

Eminent military historian Antony Beevor once said of Macdonald: “His books on World War I set the standard for a generation.” Eleo Gordon, Macdonald’s editor-in-chief at Viking for more than two decades, said: “His care and keen attention brought out the innermost thoughts and memories of the experiences of these soldiers and influenced so many historians of the world. ‘today”.

Evelyn Mary Macdonald was born in Glasgow. Her father was born in the Highlands. After attending Hutchesons High School, she became a journalist and, from the 1960s, worked as a writer and producer at Scottish Television.

She then moved to London and joined the drama department of ABC Television before becoming a producer on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour.

While working on the radio program, she was sent with a party of the Old Comrades Association for an annual visit to the battlefields of Flanders. She thought it would make an interesting half-hour program.

She traveled with the veterans and shared their first-hand memories – some sad, some tragic, but often funny. She realized that there was a gap in the chronicle of the Great War, and instead of writing about battles and powerful generals, she set about picking up the voice of the ordinary soldier.

Her first book, They Called It Passchendaele (1978), was a detailed account of the horrors of that 1917 battle, which she put together after speaking to over 600 veterans. He turned out to be one of the last eyewitness accounts of the epic battle and told the story with passion and from personal memories, achieving immediacy and authenticity.

Likewise, The Roses Of No Man’s Land (1980) recounted the selfless and relentless work of medical teams and stretcher bearers. Of nurses, Macdonald wrote poignantly: “At first glance, no one could have been less equipped for the job than these gently educated girls who came straight out of Edwardian living rooms in the overt horrors of World War I. .

The book became the basis for a BBC television drama, The Crimson Field, in 2014.

In 1983 Macdonald published another bestselling volume, Somme, recounting the slaughter of so many soldiers – many of them Scottish regiments – after the disastrous advance of July 1916. The stories she tells are heartbreaking and frightening, but she tells them with a graceful tinge of humor. One way or another, she captures with real sensitivity the bravery and pride of soldiers in one another.

The Daily Mail wrote of the Somme: “What the reader will remember the longest for are the words – heartbroken, brutal, angry – of the men who lived through the bloodbath … an addition worthy of the literature of the Great War. ”

She continues with carefully selected books that cover the conflict – notably, 1914: Days of Hope, About the First Months, and 1915: The Death of Innocence (1993), which chronicles the battles of Ypres, Loos and Gallipoli.

In 1988, his book 1914-1918: Voices And Images of the Great War obtained the following words from the Glasgow Herald: “Lyn Macdonald must be regarded as one of the foremost chroniclers of the war, and his last contribution to his bibliography is the most poignant yet ”.

His last book was To The Last Man: Spring 1918, published in 1998.

Macdonald was scrupulous in the research she undertook, not only with regard to the lengthy interviews with the old soldiers, but also the history of the battles and the conditions. It meant she knew the right questions to ask.

In the north of France, she spent days on the battlefields, in the trenches – often still in place – and visited important museums like Thiepval, in the Somme.

One of the results of Macdonald’s scholarship was a greater awareness of the hellish conditions the Tommas had to tolerate on a daily basis. After accompanying Macdonald and a group of veterans to northern France, author Sebastian Faulks was prompted to write his bestselling novel Birdsong.

Macdonald herself was a good blacksmith of words and had the rare ability to convey the danger, excitement, and sheer horror of World War I in heart-wrenching detail. It brought a new reality to documenting the outrages of war.

Macdonald had married Ian McNeilage in 1964 when the two were working for STV in Glasgow. They had a home in northern France and went on to visit many historic battlefields. Her husband and their three children survive her.

About Karren Campbell

Check Also

Legendary hitmaker Linda Perry: “Singers have to earn my songs. I don’t just distribute them’ | Music

‘I have over 100 hats,” says Linda Perry, who wears an eye-catching western number today …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.