The man who was told to fish, not fight, in WW1

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The man who was told to fish, not fight, in WW1

The extraordinary story of John Hirst, who spent much of the First World War fishing in the heart of some of the fiercest fighting, is told in the latest edition of Classic Angling magazine. Hirst, who died in 1963, aged 75, kept a highly detailed fishing diary from 1901 until 1948 that relates how he fished day after day on rivers, canals and ponds on the Somme and around Ypres, having been specifically ordered to fish rather than fight. He was such a good angler that he was detailed to catch fresh fish for the men in his regiment, and did so despite being fired at by snipers and avoiding enemy shelling. In 1915, he even caught two carp in one pond that he sent back to England to be mounted in a glass case by John Cooper, the top taxidermist of the day. His diary records: “The fish I caught were much appreciated by the officers and men of B company. In fact, I was excused all other duties so that I could provide fish.” You can read the full story, and all about the extraordinary “spider-web” rod that he designed, by subscribing to Classic Angling. The amazing story was researched and uncovered by Victor Bonutto.

Keith Elliott
Keith Elliott
Editor and publisher of Classic Angling magazine. Founder member of UK Angling Writers' Association and current chairman. Former winner of Writer of the Year. I wrote a weekly angling column for The Independent for 23 years, having previously written columns for The Guardian and Sunday Mirror. If it swims, I'll fish for it: marlin or mackerel, trout or tench, salmon or snook. I've written several books on fishing, from one for the Duke of Edinburgh's award to the notorious Catchmore Sharks (don't look at the pictures) and Bob Nudd's autobiography, How to be the World's Best Fisherman. I love exotic travel for fishing (been to Mongolia and Ecuador, the Great Barrier Reef and Arunachal Pradesh) and wish I could afford to do such trips more often. My favourite fish? Anything with fins, though I have a special love for mahseer, and I’m Founder and former Chairman of the Masher Trust.

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