The republication of a forgotten classic of the 1914 campaign – Adventures of a Despatch Rider was first published in 1915 by one of the well-educated young men who volunteered for the Signals Service and went to France (some with their own motorcycles) straight from the recruiting office. Watson and his colleagues had a ringside view of all the action: they served at Mons, Le Cateau, on the Retreat and on the Aisne; they journeyed northwards with the BEF in October 1914 when the Western Front extended to Flanders. Watson describes the crucial contribution the despatch riders made in keeping the army organised in the chaotic conditions of the Retreat and during the rest of the war of movement, but after the furious fighting around Ypres, winter came and the conflict settled down into trench warfare; then the challenges for the despatch rider diminished. Like most of his colleagues, the author chose to move into a specialised unit - and in early 1915, he was commissioned into the command of a cyclist battalion.
This is the first edition of Adventures to carry the story on until April 1915, when the author was wounded. Adventures of a Despatch Rider was based on letters home which were serialised in the famous ‘maga’ Blackwoods Magazine in 1915, which was at the same time as such classics as The 39 Steps and The First Hundred Thousand. During his convalescence, Watson re-edited the articles into a book which was published late in 1915 - and he continued the story in Blackwoods under the title 'Tales of a Gaspipe Officer'. His book, which initially evaded the censors, remains a graphic and particularly well-written account of the reality of war during the Retreat from Mons; on the Marne and the Aisne; and at First Ypres. Watson’s classic prose is now enhanced with a wealth of contemporary photographs from the despatch riders he rode with. The introduction recounts the background to the story (how the Royal Engineers hurriedly recruited and sent to France more than 400 motorcyclists) and it contains the detailed stories of the 12 despatch riders of 5th Signals Company. It reveals the identities which Watson hid under their nicknames, such as 'Huggie' and 'Spuggie', and the ironic 'Fat Boy'.
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