When war broke out in August 1914, University of Sydney medical graduate Nigel Boulton was training as a paediatrician in London and he promptly joined the Royal Army Medical Corps of the British Expeditionary Force. Back in Sydney, his younger brother Stephen left the Commonwealth Bank's head office in January 1915 to enlist as an Artillery Gunner with the Australian Imperial Force.
Both men were born in Australia of English parents. Nigel was born in Bundaberg QLD in 1888, his brother in Clunes VIC in 1890, their father being a bank manager who died in Melbourne in 1895. In the early 1900s both attended the British Orphans Asylum, a boarding school at Slough in England, and they completed their schooling at The King's School at Parramatta in Australia. Which country was home?
Anglophile Nigel (Dearest Mother) has a strategic and medical view of the war. Aussie Stephen (My dear Matee) tells his day-to-day story of front-line artillery life, the ravages of dysentery and the trials of artillery officer training at Lord's in London as he progresses to the rank of Lieutenant in the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade.
The Boulton brothers' letters to their widowed mother living at Gladesville in Sydney sweep from the outbreak of hostilities in Europe through Egypt and Gallipoli to the Flanders area around Armentieres and Hazebrouck on the Ypres section of the Western Front, to Pozières and other major battles in the Somme Valley, through the struggles of 1918 when Germany nearly won the war, to the final victory on the Beaurevoir Line, to the withdrawal of Australian troops in early October 1918 and onwards to the occupation forces entering Germany in December 1918.
Many World War 1 soldiers sent short letters home, or postcards with a few lines scrawled on them but it's rare to find a set of letters like these. The story of the Boulton brothers in the service of their country will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Six more hours would have changed everything.
This is a unique, primary-source story of World War 1. The author has merely worked out the correct chronologcal order for the letters, researched & added short introductions to some, and inserted the occasional brief footnote where necessary. The brothers' war letters were kept by their mother. In the later 1920s she had them typed and presented a copy to the Australian War Memorial, which promptly requested to hold the originals. In the AWM's large collection, Stephen Boulton's letters were among the first items to be digitised.
On reading the first of the Great War letters written by the Boulton brothers, Nigel and Stephen, it became obvious that this was going to be an emotional, poignant and at times, disturbing journey. ...... Louise Wilson is to be congratulated on producing such a superb compilation of letters in this brilliant publication. Be prepared to shed a few tears. Carol Vance-Roberts
I found it worthy of five stars which I rarely give. I think one of the main reasons is that I prefer to read fiction and although I love non-fiction I tend to skip through some of the duller parts, but this story in the boys' own words kept me wanting to read more. Robyn Lobb
The war letters of the two Boulton brothers, together with Louise Wilson's bridging notes, paint a living picture of the Great War. The voices of the unseen women at home resonate too in these letters. The accounts of movements of men, medicine and machines make much in today's world seem inconsequential. Two very different experiences of the Great War are both woven with the common threads of duty, self-deprecating humour, love, generosity and courage. These letters made me both laugh and weep & they make a memorable and moving book. Cathy Gillespie-Jones
We know what the senior politicians and military men thought about WW1. But what did the ordinary Allied soldier think? Ordinary soldiers were too cold, too hungry, shell shocked in trenches, too illiterate or too wounded to write detailed analyses. Yet as Louise Wilson wrote, many WW1 soldiers did send postcards home. What is different about her book was that this long and literate set of letters from the Boulton brothers survived intact. See blog post by Hels
Through their letters, the Boulton brothers left a legacy of first-hand observations that add to the history of the Great War,and offer historians and general readers an engaging and moving story. Katrina Kittel
Your 'Brothers in Arms' book is very well put together, copiously illustrated and gives detailed personal accounts of the Boultons' experiences of their activities in the Great War, right through from Australia, Gallipoli and France. I particularly liked the various footnotes being placed at the bottom of the relevant pages instead of an appendix of end notes. I also liked your notes illustrating the progress of the war's events as further illustration and clarity. Clearly, the war not only affected the soldiers during the progress of the war but also their mental health after the war and also their families needing to cope with the after affects. It also caused family break-ups which I found to be very sad. John Newland
Just wanted to let you know how much Bernie enjoyed your book 'Brothers in Arms'. We had a weekend away recently and we both just relaxed and read. Bernie is a particularly fast reader and finished your book during the weekend. He was very moved by the brothers' stories and especially saddened by reading how sad it was at the end. It raised his curiosity and he was most impressed by your research and history of that time. I'll look forward to reading it. Lesley Edwards
A thoroughly captivating book that gives a first hand account of the horrors, anguish and sadness of all those involved in World War One. Such an interesting perspective of Colonial Australia 100 years ago. I learnt many new things and gained an insight in Australian culture 100 years ago and Australia's involvement in WW1. Nicholas Dennis
I found to my surprise really that I felt I knew these people personally after reading the book by Louise Wilson.I just couldn't put this down until I had finished it. I was struck by the detail of daily life of the men and those who loved them. Leonie Mcguire
I must admit Louise, I did not think reading letters would appeal to me but was I in for a surprise. In no time, I felt I was living the experience and feasting on the exchanges between Nigel, Steve and Dora. What an amazingly cohesive family they were even down to 'the child' when she herself was a grown, married adult. It was so interesting also to learn something of the personalities of both Nigel and Steve. Nigel, serious and deep thinking to personally assess the strategy of undertakings while Steve, clearly very intelligent but taking a light hearted view of himself and the world even when he was confronting such appalling circumstances in the front line. ... As I became deeply involved, I could not put the book down and while saddened by so much, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read such an interesting personal record of a very important phase of our country's development. I enjoyed the experience and thank you. Alan Reed
Ryde Library now has your book on the shelf. I really enjoyed reading it, as I have lived in the area for over 50 years and some of the places mentioned are very familiar. It is a great story! I have already told lots of people about your book. Maureen Copley
I have finally come to the end of your wonderful book and have treasured every word and moment of it. I deliberately kept it for quiet moments in order to absorb all of it. Louise, what a magnificent effort on your part to put it all together and make it so interesting and so absorbing. I have to admit I had tears in my eyes many times and I am sure you did as you put it all together. Pat Wilson
The rating for your book from the Thursday group was 4.5 (Literary Merit) and 5 (Enjoyment). This was consistent over both groups and I don’t think they were being nice to the author. Most of our members are quite candid with their thoughts. Given the proliferation of stories in the media about WW1 I was not expecting to learn much more about life of a soldier and doctor during such horrible times. The personal account of day-to-day events, the mundane mixed with the ghastly, made this book a page-turner we had to finish. Convenor, Melbourne Athenaeum Library Book Groups, August 2017
I must congratulate you on your fine book BROTHERS IN ARMS. It has meant a lot to me as it has filled a void in the life of Dr Nigel Boulton. Dr Boulton and Nurse Lane were present at my birth on ... He was a fine and capable surgeon, especially as a setter of broken bones. His concern for the welfare of his patients was legendary. ... BROTHERS IN ARMS has added a rich chapter into the history of Ryde and its people. Lawrence Gallop, Dec 2017
The book is absolute magic. I love the way you presented it, so much I can't begin to tell you. All sorts of beaut things. Stephen Griffin, Dec 2017
Journal of Military Historical Society of Australia, review in March 2016 edition of Sabretache
Recommendation by Grantlee Kieza in Brisbane's Courier Mail, 22 April 2016
Sydney Alumni Magazine (SAM)’s ‘On the Shelf’ News Section, April 2016
Vetaffairs, Vol 32, No 2, Winter 2016 - Off the Shelf
Review in RAHS History, December 2016, Number 130, pp 19-21
Review by Bob Dixon, researcher at Museum of Military History, UK
Review in RSL NSW's Reveille, Vol 90, No 1, January-February 2017, p 39
The book is currently held by 12 libraries in Australia (listed on TROVE) and 2 Museums in the UK – the National Army Museum and the Museum of Military Medicine.
For other news and updates, see my blog