Born: May 31, 1929;

Died: March 1, 2021.

LYN MACDONALD, who has died aged 91, wrote an acclaimed series of finely researched books on the First World War, concentrating on the individuals who experienced the real horrors of the trenches. She told of their day-to-day existence with a beguiling and sympathetic understanding.

Historians had previously written about the great strategic tactics of the High Command. Not Macdonald. She wrote of the first-hand experiences of the Tommy after speaking with hundreds of surviving veterans.

In her books she brought an insight and understanding to many of the personal memories: with reason, she was often known as “the recording angel of the common soldier”.

She said of her own approach: “My intention is to tune in to the heartbeat of the experience of the people who lived through it.”

All of her books, opened at random, yielded quotations that spoke to the harrowing truth of war. “We passed two Germans (they were hardly more than 17 years of age), clinging to each other and weeping, unable to move apparently”, recalled one 2nd lieutenant. “I signed to them to go back with the prisoners, but they could only stare and moan, completely broken by the terrific blast of shell fire that had passed over them”.

The distinguished military historian, Antony Beevor, once said of Macdonald: “Her books on the First World War set the standard for a generation”. Eleo Gordon, Macdonald’s editor at Viking for more than two decades, said: “Her care and close attention drew out the innermost thoughts and memories of those soldiers’ experiences and influenced so many of today’s historians”.

Evelyn Mary Macdonald was born in Glasgow. Her father had been born in the Highlands. After attending Hutchesons’ Grammar School she became a journalist and, from the 1960s, worked as a writer and producer at Scottish Television.

She then moved to London and joined the drama department at ABC Television before moving to be a producer on BBC’s Woman’s Hour.

While working on the radio programme she was sent with a party of the Old Comrades’ Association on an annual visit to the battlefields of Flanders. She thought it would make an interesting half-hour programme.

She travelled with the veterans and lapped up their first-hand reminiscences – some sad, some tragic, but often funny. She realised there was a gap in the chronicling of the Great War and, instead of writing about the mighty battles and generals, she set out to capture the voice of the ordinary soldier.

Her first book, They Called It Passchendaele (1978), was a detailed account of the horrors of that 1917 battle, which she assembled after speaking to more than 600 veterans. It proved to be one of the last eyewitness accounts of the epic battle and told the story with passion and from personal memories, thus achieving an immediacy and authenticity.

Similarly, The Roses Of No Man’s Land (1980) told of the selfless and unremitting work of the medical teams and stretcher-bearers. Of the nurses Macdonald poignantly wrote: “On the face of it, no-one could have been less equipped for the job than these gently nurtured girls who walked straight out of Edwardian drawing rooms into the manifest horrors of the First World War.”

The book became the basis for a BBC television drama, The Crimson Field, in 2014.

In 1983 Macdonald published another bestselling volume, Somme, telling of the slaughter of so many soldiers – many of them from Scottish regiments – after the disastrous advance in July 1916. The stories she relates are harrowing and frightening but she tells them with a gracious tinge of humour. Somehow, she captures with a real sensitivity the soldiers’ bravery and proud loyalty to each other.

The Daily Mail wrote of Somme: “What the reader will longest remember are the words – heartbroken, blunt, angry – of the men who lived through the bloodbath... a worthy addition to the literature of the Great War.”

She followed up with carefully selected books that covered the conflict – notably, 1914: The Days Of Hope, about the first months, and 1915: The Death Of Innocence (1993), which recounted the battles at Ypres, Loos and Gallipoli.

In 1988, her book 1914-1918: Voices And Images of the Great War elicited the following words from the Glasgow Herald: “Lyn Macdonald must be regarded as one of the leading chroniclers of the war, and her latest contribution to its bibliography is the most poignant yet”.

Her last book was To The Last Man: Spring 1918, published in 1998.

Macdonald was scrupulous in the research she undertook, not only regarding the lengthy interviews with the old soldiers but also the history of the battles and conditions. It meant she knew the right questions to ask.

In northern France she would spend days on the battlefields, in the trenches – often still in place – and visit the substantial museums at the likes of Thiepval, in the Somme.

One result of Macdonald’s scholarship was a greater awareness of the hellish conditions the Tommy had to tolerate on a daily basis. After accompanying Macdonald and a party of veterans to northern France, the author Sebastian Faulks was moved to write his bestselling novel, Birdsong.

Macdonald herself was a fine wordsmith and had the rare ability of conveying the danger, excitement and sheer awfulness of the First World War in heartbreaking detail. She brought a fresh reality to the documentation of the outrages of war.

Macdonald had married Ian McNeilage in 1964 when both worked for STV in Glasgow. They had a house in the north of France and continued to visit many of the historic battlefields. Her husband and their three children survive her.