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Forgotten Voices of the Great War: A New History of WWI in the Words of the Men and Women Who Were There (Forgotten Voices/the Great War) [Paperback]

Max Arthur
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Oct 2003 Forgotten Voices/the Great War

This unique landmark oral history uses first-hand accounts from ordinary men and women who were there. Gripping, poignant, surprising and even humorous, the personal experiences of these soldiers, civilians, marines and medics from both sides tell us what it was really like to live through what was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Skilfully assembled by acclaimed author and historian Max Arthur using the IWM's remarkable sound archive, Forgotten Voices of the Great War became an instant classic on first publication with close to half a million copies sold.

In 1972, the Imperial War Museum began a momentous and important task. A team of academics, archivists and volunteers set about tracing First World War veterans and interviewing them in order to record the experiences of ordinary individuals in war. Since then the Sound Archive has grown to become the largest and most important oral history collections in the world. It now contains over 34,000 recordings, including interviews with veterans of both world wars - both service personnel and non-combatants - recordings relating to Britain and the Empire in the inter-war period 1919-1939, conflicts since 1945 and the Holocaust.

In 2002, Ebury Press published the first edition of Forgotten Voices of the Great War. It was both the first time many of these recordings had been transcribed and published, and the only comprehensive oral history of the First World War. Twelve further books covering aspects of the Second World War, the Falklands and the Victoria Cross followed, selling well over a million copies to date.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press; New Ed edition (2 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091888875
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091888879
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 50,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Max Arthur is an oral historian who specialises in bringing together first-hand recollections of the twentieth century. He is the best-selling author of Forgotten Voices of the Great War,Forgotten Voices of the Second World War and Last Post: The Final Word from our First World War Soldiers.

Other titles include the classic work on the Falklands Campaign, Above All, Courage; Busby Babes: Men and Magic; Men of the Red Beret; The Edwardians; Dambusters and Last of the Few. His most recent title is The Road Home: The Aftermath of the Great War Told by the Men and Women Who Survived It.

His awards include Audiobook of the Year 2004 from The British Book Awards, and he has recently made two documentaries based on his books: The Brits That Went to Spain to Fight for the History Channel and The Dambusters.

Prior to becoming a writer, he served with the Royal Air Force.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Max Arthur's compilation of First World War memories, Forgotten Voices of the Great War, offers a reminder of the scale of human experience within the 1914-18 conflict. Arthur, a military historian best known for his history of the RAF and his account of the Falklands campaign in 1982, has assembled hundreds of excerpts from the sound archives of the Imperial War Museum. Officers, rank-and-file troops, Australians, Americans, war widows, women in the munitions factories, and German soldiers too, all left oral testimony of their experiences, and these interviews provide the basis of the book. Arthur has put them in chronological and campaign order, and provided a general commentary, but beyond that, has left the rich and moving record to speak for itself.

The sheer humdrum ordinariness of modern warfare--the mud and rain, the relentless loss of life and inevitability of death, the pointless routine of attrition--come over in the matter-of-fact recollections of so many. But so too does the humanity and morality of the ordinary soldier--a factor that rather belies the recent emphasis amongst some historians on how soldiers loved to kill. Arthur might have intruded more. No biographical information is given about the owners of these "voices", nor does he say when, where and how this oral testimony was gathered.

These quibbles aside this is a worthwhile read and should encourage people not only to observe a minute's silence on Remembrance Day, but also to spend a few hours in the Imperial War Museum itself. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An extraordinary and immensely moving book" (Stephen Fry)

"This extraordinary book is crammed with details, conjuring up the atmosphere of war as vividly as the frequent descriptions of appalling violence" (Daily Telegraph)

"The words of the soldiers are as fresh as if they were written yesterday ... extraordinary" (Mail on Sunday)

"These stories are so harrowing, and their witness so precise and devastating" (The Times)

"The stories of these now long-dead vets simply jump off the page" (FHM)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
84 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten Voices of the Great War 24 Nov 2002
By A Customer
This is a remarkable work. Max Arthur has distilled hundreds of hours of interviews into small pieces which he then assembles in to a patchwork gradually forming a picture of the Great War. No knowledge of the details of the war are needed; this is a view from ordinary people from all sides, including women of the Land Army and medical staff.
The voices are of their time which adds to the sense of authority. These men are confused, weighed down, horrified, but they keep their feelings very much to themselves, if indeed they actually allow themselves the luxury of feeling. It describes a world of chaos, mud and endless discomfort, poor sleep, infection and yet this becomes their home, somehow preferable to being back in England. Their are tales of heroism, but none of the voices see themselves as heroes.
This book is in the great tradition of oral history, and has now been written so future generations can gain a glimpse through the words of those who were there.
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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten Voices of the Great War 27 Nov 2002
By A Customer
This is a unique book. It is an oral history of the First World War, the stories of many people, soldiers, women of the Land Army, soldiers from all sides of the conflict. Max Arthur has skilfully woven a patchwork, distilling hundreds of hours of tapes of interviews with the survivors, reassembling them into a book that slowly unfolds the story of the war in their words. It is not about great people or great moments although there are many of these. It is about the day by day horror of the unfolding drama and their survival.
The voices speak with a different tone, almost unrecognisable today. It is one of humility, of a lack of self importance, of the greater good of the country and faith. There is in some ways a lack of depth in their descriptions as we are now so used to mining the extent of our inner experiences. Then, suddenly a comment will illuminate the ordeal and lend it terrible power.
It is extraordinary to see the dreadful conditions, the mud, infections, rats, sleeplessness, bombing and killing and maiming, slowly become habitual and even, bizarrely, preferable to being at home. One sees the same men start out strong and hopelessly optimistic and naive, slowly being ground into a new, darker personality.
This book is a treasure trove of individual experiences, now saved before the last of these men are lost forever. Max Arthur not only edited the tapes but also was able to interview some survivors himself.
It is the ideal book for primary source material and should be of importance to schools and universities. It helps remind us of what happened by listening to the last echoes of those who were there. Every library should have one.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great insight into REAL people's war 3 Oct 2002
By A Customer
This book is the only oral history of the Great War that concentrates on the experiences on ordinary men and women who were doing ordinary jobs, such as working in munitions factories or on farms. It also records the experiences of low ranking soldiers; the courageous snipers, infantrymen, engineers and drivers who formed the backbone of the army. Their stories are often told in the most extraordinarily matter of fact way - they seem oblivious to how courageous their actions were. But it isn't all about courage and honour, some of the most moving accounts focus on young boys shot for desertion, for example, or the stupid women back in London who handed out white feathers to any men they saw out of uniform, assuming that they had weasled their way out of active service. Of course many of these men had simply been invalided out of the army after suffering horrible injuries, but they still felt humiliated when accosted in public. Max Arthur has found a wealth of wonderful stories in these veteran's memories, and it's marvellous to see them collected together in this fascinating book.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars White Feather 8 Jan 2004
"Almost the last white feather I recieved": thus one of the contributers remembers two women on a bus; one of whom gave him a white feather. He had returned from the front and was sat in civies. "For a brave soldier" said the woman who handed him the feather. Cleaning his pipe with it he handed the feather back. Those who took part in this conflict came home, tongue-tied; wanting to get back to the real reality with their mates at the front. They had no words for the folks back home. The folks back home were being served with patriotic post cards and the exploits of the cross-eyed pin-up Kitchener. So many mistakes are made by the ignorant and unwitting. This book seeks to help us to understand the mistakes made by all in the propogation and sustation of this dreadful conflict. If you you are just beginning to research this subject 'The GreatWar'. This is where you you must begin your studies.
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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Such a poignant book. 26 May 2003
By Richard
I've read many, many books on the First World War. I can't remember ever reading one that moved me so much though. The voices of those who fought really comes through in this book.
This book will make you appreciate the thoughts and feelings of those who fought in World War One.
The feelings of those forced to participate in firing squads for example,is something few books have dealt with so poignantly. One of the voices tells of his disgust at witnessing a friend shot as a deserter when he had volunteered for action in the first place and had fought bravely throughout. One moment of fear and madness was enough to bring a court martial and death sentence.
The voice continues to tell how the victim's parents were never told the truth, and never got to know that an English bullet had ended their son's life. In a sick ironic twist, the devastated father's response was to join up himself as he felt he had to avenge his son's death at the hands of the Germans.
There are countless examples like this in the book-tragic episodes that would otherwise have gone to the grave with the few soldiers aware of them.
I can't imagine anyone not being able to gain some insight or degree of empathy from reading this book.
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