Posts Tagged ‘John Barnsley’

Jumping Off the Donkey by John Barnsley ~ 1983. This edition: Minimax Books, 1983. Hardcover. 191 pages.

Found in the book stacks when doing a spot of spring cleaning the other day. I have no idea where I picked up this obscure autobiography – thrift store? charity book sale? – but it has provided me with a few hours of mild but genuine enjoyment, and that is always pleasing.

From the flyleaf:

John Barnsley is the pen name of a former country solicitor who began working life, after being educated at Derby School and Clifton College, as a journalist on weeklies in Hexham, Jarrow and South Shields.

Leaving journalism John Barnsley became a solicitor’s articled clerk one year before the outbreak of the Second World War. In that war he saw service in England, Egypt, Palestine, Eritrea, Cyprus and the Dodacanese Island where he was Custodian of Enemy Property. After VE day he was sent to Norway where, after a brief spell in charge of a POW camp he was called upon to defend Germans accused in Oslo of war crimes in two celebrated trials.

John Barnsley’s writing style might best be described as tongue-in-cheek with a leaning to the ponderous; one can almost feel his elbow nudging the reader’s figurative ribs on occasion. Not offensively so, though. I am sure Mr. Barnsley would have been a boon to dinner parties post-retirement, when he could let himself go with carefully anonymous tales of some of the characters he encountered throughout those years in the law.

While the law firm anecdotes are generally amusing, the strongest parts of this slender account are the more serious bits – the wartime references and in particular the account of acting as the defense lawyer for several German war criminals.

A bit of an eye opener, that is, and shines a light on a viewpoint not often recognized or discussed – that of the legal counsel speaking for the accused in atrocious crimes.

Criminal law was not Mr. Barnsley’s forte once his military days ended; he returned to civilian life and the workaday business of assisting in settling estates and property transactions and the like.

An interesting find and I am glad to have read it; a good example of this type of “common man” memoir in that it brings a touch of humanity and understanding to one person’s part in our shared society and history.

My rating: I think it deserves a 7.5/10, when considered among other similar minor memoirs. A competent and engaging example of its genre.

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