My Favourite Books - Part One.

Like many book lovers, I love scouring the shelves of bookstores looking for books that are slightly off the radar, but are magical finds, and this book is one of those finds.

I came across Tommy's War: A First World War Diary during a last minute check of the Waterstones shelves a few years ago, arms already full of books eager to purchase.

I love anything to do with the first and second World Wars, but in particular the first. I just knew from the cover that this was going to be a great addition to my already huge collection of World War literature.

What's it all about, and what makes it so special?

"Thomas Cairns Livingstone was a mercantile book-keeper, born in 1882. He married Agnes Smart Cook in 1910 and had a son, 'wee Tommy' in 1911. In 1913, the family moved to Govanhill, Glasgow, where Thomas kept a daily diary until his wife's death in 1950. He died in 1964. 

In 1913, Thomas Cairns Livingstone began keeping a diary. A Glaswegian shipping clerk, he spent his days working, visiting friends, complaining about the weather and worrying about the rent. He had no idea he would live through one of the most tumultuous periods of global history: the First World War. 

But as the crisis in Europe worsened and news filtered back to an anxious home front, 
Livingstone's commentary on family life, Scottish weather and his culinary attempts were soon interwoven with accounts of soldiers wounded, prisoners taken and submarines sunk. Illustrated throughout with Livingstone's wry, whimsical sketches, these remarkable diaries capture perfectly the uncertainty of the period and the effects of war on an ordinary working-class family for whom life had to-and did-go on."

Tommy's dairies were later found by a Shaun Sewell, an avid antiques dealer who spotted Thomas Cairns Livingstone's diaries in a shoebox at an auction. Captivated by the author's wit, the vivid picture he gives of daily life during the First World War, and his skilled illustrations, Shaun bought the dairies and later showed them on the BBC's 'The Antiques Roadshow'. 

With forewords provided by both Shaun Sewell and Andrew Marr, Tommy's wonderful diary entries and his humorous accompanying sketches, take you on a journey through life as a ordinary working-class citizen before, during, and after the First World War.

The book begins with information about the people and places that Tommy talks about throughout his entries, followed by maps of North and South Glasgow showing how the city appeared during Tommy's days.

The book is then split into chapters; with each chapter dedicated to each year of Tommy's entries, 1913-1918, and the last chapter on the few entries Tommy made in 1933 and 1950. At the beginning of each chapter, information is provided on the major events of the year, both in Tommy's life and of the War. 

Throughout the book; for every word, place or phrase that Tommy mentions or uses that needs further clarification, there is a note at the bottom of the page giving more information and detail about what Tommy is describing or talking about.

For example, in Tommy's entry dated Monday 6th January 1913, he writes, "Wee man got a new frock." At the bottom of the page it explains that "Until around 1920, young children of either sexes wore dresses over their nappies."

Most of Tommy's entries are a humble and fascinating insight into life in Britain during the First World War, with Tommy recounting stories of his wife and child, the weather, work and paying the rent, going on holiday or visiting friends.

As the book leads us further into the deepening crisis and tragedy that the War brought to people in Britain, Tommy makes a habit of recording the numbers of lives lost and of those wounded, as well as battles won and lost, which had been recorded by the media on a daily basis.

The last entry for 1918 includes figures of losses, wounded and those taken prisoner from the different forces and nations involved, by the end of the war, including:

"British military casualties in the Great War:
(not complete yet)


Killed 660,000
Wounded 2 million
Prisoners, missing etc 350,000
Of whom 80,000 are considered killed"

Further information is provided throughout the book on a number of different areas, such as food and drink, communication, health and illness, religion and beliefs, and how the Government encouraged motivation and high spirits during the War effort. This helps to build a bigger picture of what daily life and times of the era were like.

The thing I love most about the book is how the publishers have kept the spirit of Tommy and his world alive by using his sketches on almost ever page.

His humble sketches really bring his world to life, and occasionally an extract from his diary will be published in his own handwriting, which I think is a really lovely touch. There are also the odd pages were they have chosen to publish the original page from his diary, again keeping Tommy's spirit present in the book.

Tommy's War is my absolute favourite find, and is a book that I will treasure always.

It is so unique and also quite poignant that almost 100 years ago an ordinary working class man was trying to raise his family during one of Britain's darkest events, while merely recording his life in the pages of his diaries.

Tommy may never have given it a second thought of who may read his dairies, and little did he release how his words are available now to the wider public on many different platforms, and now help new generations truly understand and appreciate the way of life for Britions during the Great War.

To end my post, I would like to quote Tommy's last entry.

"Monday 27th Feb 1950.

Agnes, my darling wife and sweetheart, died early this morning.

'At the going down of the sun and in the morning, I will remember her'."

Do you have an all time favourite book? Leave me a comment below.


  1. I wouldn't say I have an all time favourite book but reading your post makes me want to get back in to reading. I had a period when I used to love reading and I do still enjoy picking out books that I believe I will read but I never get around to it. I should set myself a goal to read more but I do find it difficult when I have so many blog posts to keep my reading going. This book looks interesting and provides an insight in to Tommy's life throughout the War and it makes it even more unique as Tommy would have never have known this would have been published and it keeps in his sketches and it is really one of a kind.

    Kirsty x

  2. I just finished Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys this weekend and it was so amazing. It's a fiction book based during WWII and the sinking of the Willhem Gustloff and I seriously recommend it!
    It's really sparked an interest in history for me, so your favourite book interest me, too.

    Tea and Cakes

  3. This sounds wonderful! I love reading life stories. Have you read Alan Johnson's memoir, This Boy? I really enjoyed it and think you would too.

  4. Thanks for all your comments!

    I haven't read Salt to the Sea or This Boy, but thank you for the suggestions. They sound like my cup of tea, so I will be adding them to my TBR list!

    Jemma x

  5. I don't have any all-time favourite books but recently I've loved the first 15 lives of Harry August! x

    Heather | Of Beauty & Nothingness