The Bootlace Boys

Written by Eric Collinson
Review by Janet Williamson

This vividly realistic, tightly-paced and gripping novel draws on diaries and military records to convey the story of Ted Smith. The story begins in 1901, on farmland on the outskirts of Sunniside Colliery Village, County Durham, where Ted’s older brothers and family friend rescue Ted from a near‑drowning in a fast-flowing stream. Their actions and dialects captivate from the start and evoke the sense of community and the era. On their return home, this incident is overshadowed by the announcement that the pit is to close. This fragments the family as his older brothers seek employment elsewhere. With schooldays over, Ted is employed at the pit eight miles away. There he falls in love with Bertha Thompson, who accepts his marriage proposal at the 1910 Durham Miners’ Gala.

Adjustment to married life takes place in a terraced property, surrounded by a vibrant community, each neighbour having a story to tell, some amusing, some harrowing, but all helping to forge a deeper connection to the village. Ted blames himself for a tragic fatal accident and uses his self-hatred to propel himself through the hours of endless marching and combat training required by the Territorial Army. Ted’s battalion realises what it was all for when they join the Durham Light Infantry in the front-line trenches where they face the horrors of war in the Second Battle for Ypres.

What happened to them was horrendous but compelling. It left me wanting more. Highly recommended.