This is a book that demonstrates that
great history is not only to be found in the grand tomes of
academics and established historians; and that extraordinary stories
can be found in the most ordinary of places - in this case, amongst
the shoeboxes, family scrapbooks and dusty photo-albums of the
author's own attic.
Soft Words tells the story of the extraordinary life of Lynda Franklin's grandfather, John Iliffe Poole - a life that began in the late Victorian era in the Scottish Borders and finished in the computer age in Devon.
As anyone born in the late 19th century who was destined to live a long life, John Poole was to be a witness to, participant in and victim of the relentlessly turbulent 20th century - not least the British Army at the height of its imperial pomp; the mud and blood of the trenches; the civil unrest and painful restructuring of an interwar society; the sacrifices of the home front during WW2; and the advent of post-war modern age on a dormant rural community.
Using personal correspondence, photographs, scrapbook mementos and her own recollections, Lynda Franklin threads a coherent and fast-paced narrative of an ever-changing world. The effect is to create a very personal social history of the broad sweep of the century from the perspective of an individual at ground-level, whilst also telling the truly uplifting and moving story of Poole's own life.
The vivid picture of this kind, friendly, community-minded man's personality and life - and the stoical determination that underpinned it - provide both inspiration and a melancholic nostalgia for the values of a bygone era.
No sooner had I put the book down, then I was filled with an overwhelming urge to visit Poole's village community idyll in Devon, such was the resonant strength of the sweep of his life-story.
In an age of burgeoning interest in family history, Soft Words should act as a clarion call to all genealogists, and remind them that behind the names and dates on the census rolls and parish registers, and amongst the old shoe boxes and photographs in the attic, there can often be found stories and lives fascinating and powerful enough to provide a truly engaging history in their own right.
Hector Proud, London There must be many people who could think of a relative who became extraordinary, and could, with some hard work and dedication, share that person's life in the form of a book; but of course few have done so, and even fewer so effectively as Lynda Franklin has with "Soft Words". She has taken care to set the events of John Poole's life in the context of both history and geography, presented in a very accessible "scrapbook" style that all the while brings the reader face to face with the very human story she tells. What struck me most from this book was the sheer uncomplicated kindness showed by the Pooles to the servicemen who visited their open house during the years of WWII. Such generosity seems rare and undervalued these days. G S, Swindon
John Iliffe Poole, like so many others, had lasting
physical effects from the First World War. It was a pioneer period for
the medical profession and Dr Guthrie's intervention and surgery carried
huge risks. Worse still, there was no guidance available to
rehabilitate these service-men, they needed to rely on their own mental
strength, tenacity and and common-sense to survive and to learn how to
cope with their disabilities. John's tale including touching extracts
from his own mementoes and the author's detailed research carefully
placing his story within the context of a rapidly-changing world,
depicts a man who kept his humanity and soul while using his personal
experience to help others across the world. Newton Ferrer's Glen Cot was
incredible, over 70,000 visitors wanting tea, peace and a
breathing-place; I wish I'd had the chance to experience it!
was not sure when I opened this book whether it would be for me.
How very wrong could I have been? Lynda Franklin manages to
transport the reader into another time when everything moved at a
slower and more gentle pace. As the pages were read, it was as
though I was looking at John Iliffe Poole's life through his own
eyes. Whilst each new era of his life unfolded, the achievements of
the wider world are also catalogued and the reader gets a sense of
the passage of time as the story of a life is unfolding.
There were times when I laughed out loud, and there were times when
I shed a tear. But above all I felt as though I was there - so
vivid are the descriptions and so complete is the pictorial
evidence. I ended the book feeling better for having read it and
with (I hope) a greater understanding of an extraordinary man and
his family and of the many lives they touched.
Amanda Hyde, Devon
I wanted to drop you a note to say that I have just finished Soft
Words Ė I absolutely loved it. I read it in about 4 days which is very
unusual for me! I found it interesting, touching, sad and really funny
I loved the parts about the war. It is great to be able to read
about something like that from such a personal perspective. Especially
when youíre used to hearing about it all from text books about battalion
manoeuvres and political causes. I was really moved by the part about
Donaldís letters home and really sad when I found out he died so young
and so far away from home. I was totally amazed by John and Winifredís
open house policy and all the letters they had received from soldiers
who, no doubt, probably didnít see England again.
So I just wanted to say thanks really. I thought it was brilliant
and a really amazing thing to do Ė to tell his story. And what a story!
I only wish I could have met him and everyone else. I have sent a copy
to my grandfather to read so Iíll let you know what he says. He was in
the second war so, you never know, he may have even heard of Glen Cot.
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