"Jock's Jocks: Voices of Scottish Soldiers from the First World War" by Jock Duncan and edited by Gary West is a remarkable book that does exactly what it says on the cover. It recounts the experience of 59 Scottish veterans of the Great War, very much in their own voices. North-East folksinger Jock Duncan, who served in the RAF in the Second World War, spent over 50 years of his life from the 1930s to the 1980s seeking out and interviewing "the Jocks", Scottish veterans of the Great War. His interviews with them were recorded, in later years on a cassette recorder.
As the cover blurb says, "Transcribing the recordings word for word on an old manual typewriter over 2000 Sunday mornings, Jock's labour of love has gifted us a truly unique glimpse of the lives of those who left the farms of Aberdeenshire, Angus and Perthshire for the fields of Flanders and France and the shores of Gallipoli." It goes on to say: "The stories of 59 men from 14 regiments, including the Gordon Highlanders and the Black Watch, are told in rich and earthy Scots dialects, and are shared here for the first time."
The editor was a friend of Jock Duncan's children and he recounts how Jock ended up with two versions of his transcript. The first gave a full transcription of each interview in the order in which they were undertaken. The second was, in the most literal sense possible, a cut and paste job, collecting together segments of each interview arranged thematically and, to an extent, chronologically. This is the version used here, and it gives the veterans' memories added force and resonance for them to have been arranged in this way.
As a result we start with sections covering "Pre War", "Training", "First time in the Line", and "Mons to the Marne". Later sections cover "Gallipoli, Egypt and Salonica 1915-18", "Mesopotamia 1916-18", "Italy 1917-19", and so on through the war. There are also sections covering themes such as "Wounded and Sick", "Horses and Mules", "Vermin", "Over the Top", and "Laughs". The book is divided into thirty-six individual sections in total.
The result is a document of lasting historical value. What really gives it a character of its own is Jock Duncan's decision to write down what he was told by those he interviewed with as much accuracy as possible. The Scots of north-eastern Scotland, which many of the men he interviewed used, can take a little tuning into, and that is faithfully reflected here in interviews which not only give you the men's words, but in a very real sense gives you their voices too.