In 2014 we will likely begin to see a run of new books tied to the 100-year anniversary of the start of World War I in 1914. That will bring long overdue attention to what has long been called "The Great War" but more often is treated as The Forgotten War. "The Great Promise" is an early arrival among such books and it has so much going for it, I have no doubt that it will solidly hold its ground among any other reflection or exploration of the conflict that was so bloody it was expected to be the war that ends all wars.
The memoir is built around the journal entries of Frederick G. Coxen, then a British soldier with the Royal Field Artillery. Somehow he survived several of the war's earliest battles, with astoundingly high casualty rates: the First Battle of Mons, the First Battle of Marne, the First Battle of Ypres. Most of us have read some war journals, but few deliver what this one conveys with its vivid details and honest reporting of one soldier's perspective. Countless times Frederick Coxen somehow survives while others around him are dying every minute. He endures and maintains his focus and commitment, but we can feel his sense of loss and sadness as he witnesses his comrades going down. His voice captures the spirit of the British outlook toward what they expected to be a short war, rather than the prolonged conflict that led to the U.S. entry in 1917. Anyone seeking to understand not only the history but the impact of World War I from the beginning will have much to sink their teeth into through the journals alone.
Wrapped around these stark personal accounts from the battlefield, the author offers historical background and reference points that help us more easily follow along the trail. These added pieces are all the more poignant because the author is the soldier's grandson. Rick Coxen obviously took a thorough and meticulous approach to tying history into his own grandfather's experience.
Yet there's something else that will elevate this memoir above others sure to follow. Rick Coxen shares with readers how he came upon his grandfather's promise made to three chums at the start of the war. If any one of them made it out alive, he would visit the families of the others to share personal stories of how their loved one died and who they were among the ranks of soldiers. Frederick Coxen is the only one of the four who survived. Unfortunately, he did not fulfill the promise, something he laments over during an updated journal entry duing World War II, long after he had settled in the U.S.
Rick Coxen was so touched by this promise that he decided he would pick up the baton. He soon launched a relentless campaign to find some living relatives of his grandfather's three chums. Like World War I itself, his mission has turned out to be a long struggle, and it's still not complete. To achieve victory, Rick recognizes that he needs help "over there" (in Britian) or anywhere the clues may be lying. He's hoping that someone who reads this book can yet steer him toward those relatives to fulfill his grandfather's great promise.
- Kevin Quirk, author of "Your Life Is a Book And It's Time to Write It" http://www.amazon.com/Kevin-Quirk/e/B001H9XYQ0