Upon entering the Savage Club, I was struck by the arresting Great War memorial which hangs on the wall. I strongly suspected that it would be unique in containing two field marshals and a private. It is hard to imagine any non-military organisations with two people holding the highest rank in the British army, and impossible to imagine any of the other London gentlemen's clubs of the day admitting any other ranks.
Further investigations revealed that the Savage Club of the first half of the twentieth century contained an extraordinary range of gifted members - doctors, scientists, surgeons, authors, stand-up comedians, singers, conductors, composers - as well as leading members of the royal family, all of whom had served in some capacity or other as young men during the First World War.
I recognised many as household names even now, and became interested in finding out more about how they had coped with the unmitigated horror of service on the Western Front and elsewhere during those dreadful years of 1914-18. Some had been heroes, some had been wounded, some served with quiet distinction, and some, of course, never came home. This book is intended to tell the story of a selection of that remarkable group of individuals.
I also wanted to say something about the Club itself. Like most institutions, it resolved to 'do its bit' for the war effort. It also suffered some - but, notable not all - of the privations most of Britain had to endure during wartime. It continued to perform a valuable function on the home front by being a place of refuge for soldiers on leave, including Admiral Jellicoe after he fell from favour following the (arguably unfair) official disappointment with the Battle of Jutland. And it hosted some strikingly forthright discussions about the war effort whilst the conflict was still ongoing (and the result unclear) - an important endorsement of the power of freedom of speech during wartime.
The book is not aimed solely at Great War buffs or Savage Club members. Instead, it is aimed at a general readership interested in one of the most significant events in world history, whose effects we still live with today.