Review of the reads – January 2023

Words by:
Yusef Sayed
Featured in:
January 2023

The Witham: Lincolnshire’s River
By Jon Fox

Jon Fox’s third book about the county’s landscape focuses on one of the less celebrated English rivers. As with his previous publications, he approaches his subject matter with an artist’s eye and plenty of insight.

Tracing the Witham back to its likely source just over the Leicestershire border, Fox finds not a gushing spring but a meeting of ditches. From there it has flowed and endured through centuries of settlement, trade, drainage schemes and modern urban building and industry.

Fox traverses the county, camera in hand, taking in the key locations of Grantham, Lincoln and Boston and villages and towns in between, as well as the major and minor tributaries – among them the Brant, which holds the oldest Witham deposits. Fox leads the reader across agricultural expanses, past stately homes and stops by to catch the quiet labour of locals – cleaning the altarware at North Witham, repairing an estate wall at Little Ponton.

The reader might simply enjoy this widescreen full colour publication as a visual journey – for which even the captions are helpfully detailed, as well as supplementary maps. Fox captures the course of the Witham through the seasons – we see Brayford Pool buried in fog and frost, an incredible snow shower over Till valley at dusk and sunrise from Silver Pit Drain. Fox never romanticises the landscape though, aware of the damage to the environment done in the past and the lack of ‘willowy charm’ and ‘wilder character’ of other rivers.

But the accompanying text tells the story of each location from a variety of perspectives, taking in geology and social developments. There is a strong contrast between the bygone periods of colonisation and bustling commercial activity described by Fox and the contemplative, largely unpopulated scenes he snaps. Now used mostly for recreational boating, and a valued defence against flooding, much of the Witham may be lacking in bucolic charm but it is full of history.

Published by Green Plover Books, Price £28

We Will Remember – World War Two Veterans
By Matt Limb

The death of the last member of the Dambusters, Sqn Ldr George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, in December was another reminder so soon after Remembrance Day of the importance of recording the stories of those who lived through the World Wars – in particular the servicemen and women and their contributions.

In the introduction to his new book, Lincolnshire Life contributor Matt Limb writes that he was struck 30 years ago by the passing of those who experienced the Great War. This gave him the idea to begin interviewing and photographing veterans willing to share their memories. The result combines Limb’s strikingly detailed contemporary portraits and archival photographs with first-hand testimony.

The emphasis is not all on the war effort, however. Limb is interested in the wider social history and the individual shape of these lives, encompassing childhood schooling and early work experience, as well as post-war careers and relationships.

There are illuminating wartime details for Limb, as he learns of the dangers of being a Tow Target Operator, and of Operation Woodpecker – a scheme to use German timber for construction in Britain. Both Val Hilton and her mother served in the ATS, which may be unique, while Royal Marine Jack Smith and fusilier Arthur Perkins were both involved in the actions of D-Day, but have their own different viewpoint on that historic moment.

There are instances of love emerging out of the darkest time: in the extraordinary case of Donald Rose, the oldest of Limb’s interviewees, he met his future wife, a victim of the Nazis, during the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

One veteran, Ken Hoddy, made another vital mark after the war during his time with the ambulance service, inventing a new bandage, the ‘Hoddy Quick Clip’. He also published his own book in 2014 about two friends killed in the war. Limb carries on this respectful, necessary documentation of lives that have benefitted us all.

Published by Wild Tweed Limited, Price £12.50 available from The Great British Bookshop

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