The Sins of Soldiers
The Sins of Soldiers, by S.J. Hardman Lea, is set during WWI. It follows the fortunes of Anson Scott, an American newspaper reporter who has covertly enlisted with a British regiment so as to relay stories back to his editor, from the end of 1915 through to the start of the battle of the Somme. A very brief prologue and epilogue provide perspective from the early 1930s.
Unlike some other WWI stories I have read, The Sins of Soldiers avoids focusing exclusively on the detail of life in the trenches, and turns our attention to the interpersonal dynamics between the men of the Royal Pennines regiment, including Scott. These relationships span the whole gamut from intimate and supportive, through to brutal and vicious – hence the title of the book. Given the setting, it will come as no surprise that female characters are thin on the ground.
I was not wholeheartedly sold on the basic premise of the reporter’s position, given the severity of press censorship in both Britain and America through the war, but the author does a very good job of drawing you in to the emotional conflict within the Allied camp. Anson and his fellow soldiers become credible characters, caught up in vast and terrifying events, each coping – or failing to cope – in their own way.
Scott’s own personal journey stands out especially vividly, appropriately so since the interior story is told in first person. In particular, the steady transition from disinterested observer to committed participant is very striking. There are times when the author signals future crises too overtly, tending to pull you out of the narrated moment. However, this book provides an engaging, and unusual glimpse into front-line life among the British troops in the trenches of 1916. The author promises further works in what is planned to be a series.