Wearing his trademark kilt and carrying a twisted walking stick (for which the shrub “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” was named), Sir Harry Lauder (1870-1950) entertained audiences around the world with his Scottish songs and humor. The great tragedy in his life, however, was the loss of his only child John, an officer in the famed Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who died while fighting in France in 1916. Minstrel in France is a tribute by Sir Harry to his son, as well as a narrative of Sir Harry’s 1917 trip to France to entertain British troops and to visit John’s grave.
While in France, Sir Harry often gave impromptu roadside concerts for British soldiers and especially delighted in the opportunity to sing to his beloved Highlanders. After pressing senior British Army officials for the chance to visit troops at the front-line, he had to cut short one performance because German artillery started lobbing shells into the trench where he was singing. Although Minstrel in France was published over 90 years ago, it reminds us of how much soldiers, regardless of the era, welcome – and need – the diversion that a few hours of entertainment can provide.
One note of caution for prospective readers: you will either be frustrated or enchanted by Sir Harry’s literary Scottish dialect. I think I figured it out from the context in which it was used, but even online Scottish dictionaries couldn’t help me with “verrainjudeecious.”