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Great-Uncle Harry: A Tale of War and Empire (Hardcover)

Great-Uncle Harry: A Tale of War and Empire By Michael Palin Cover Image


Michael Palin recreates the extraordinary life and tragic death of a First World War soldier—his great-uncle Harry.

Some years ago a stash of family records was handed down to Michael Palin, among which were photos of an enigmatic young man in army uniform, as well as photos of the same young man as a teenager looking uncomfortable at family gatherings. This, Michael learned, was his Great-Uncle Harry, born in 1884, died in 1916. He had previously had no idea that he had a Great-Uncle Harry, much less that his life was cut short at the age of 32 when he was killed in the Battle of the Somme. The discovery both shocked him and made him want to know much more.

The quest that followed involved hundreds of hours of painstaking detective work. Michael dug out every bit of family gossip and correspondence he could. He studied every relevant official document. He tracked down what remained of his great-uncle Harry's diaries and letters, and pored over photographs of First World War battle scenes to see whether Harry appeared in any of them. He walked the route Harry took on that fatal, final day of his life amid the mud of northern France. And as he did so, a life that had previously existed in the shadows was revealed to him.

Great-Uncle Harry is an utterly compelling account of an ordinary man who led an extraordinary life. A blend of biography, history, travelogue and personal memoir, this is Michael Palin at his very finest.

About the Author

MICHAEL PALIN has written and starred in numerous TV programs and films, from Monty Python and Ripping Yarns to The Missionary and The Death of Stalin. He has also made several much-acclaimed travel documentaries, his journeys taking him to the North and South Poles, the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, Eastern Europe and Brazil. His books include accounts of his journeys, novels (Hemingway’s Chair and The Truth) and several volumes of diaries. From 2009 to 2012 he was president of the Royal Geographical Society. He received a BAFTA fellowship in 2013, and a knighthood in the 2019 New Year Honours list. He lives in London.

Praise For…

"An important historical record and a well-paced story in its own right, Great-Uncle Harry is also much more than that: a tremendous act of love." —The Guardian

“Palin’s Great-Uncle Harry . . . was a feast. Ostensibly, it was a tribute to Lance Corporal H.W.B. Palin, slain on the Somme in September 1916. But he did not merely recreate the life of a man whose body was ‘known unto God.’ Through years of research and hard writing he created a life.”The Critic

“A remarkable work of forensic genealogy, reassembling the absent bones of a man who left scant clues, told with quiet, affectionate persistence. There was an obstinate opacity to the man, and yet Palin manages to revive him.” StarTribune

“Palin’s skill as a storyteller lifts the unremarkable story of his great-uncle Harry into a moving tribute to all soldiers lost in World War I.” —Business Post

Product Details
ISBN: 9781039001985
ISBN-10: 103900198X
Publisher: Random House Canada
Publication Date: October 10th, 2023
Pages: 336
Language: English