In December 1938, with a new war looming solicitor Charles Henderson lunches with his cousin and relates a seemingly commonplace story of promising young men lost in the Great War. Henderson’s anecdote describes the experience of half a dozen clerks who volunteer for a Northern “Pals” battalion in 1914 and who are progressively hardened to confront new and greater challenges, eventually leading infantry platoons as “temporary gentlemen.”
Presented as a sometimes troubling anecdote, this simple story goes beyond recruitment, training in England and trench life in France to the brutal mayhem of the first day on the Somme. The grimly efficient battles that follow show how unassuming young men adapted themselves to leadership in a harshly effective army.
Darkening December is not the conventional tale of futile misery. It is a clear-eyed, unsentimental view both of the valuable men whose loss bereaved our society so profoundly and most especially of their friends whose resilience helped them fight doggedly to victory.