on 6 February 2013
I read this book twice before acquiring my own copy. A third reading was as stirring and interesting as the first two. Professor Bond describes a variety of fascinating and extraordinarily courageous men who served in the BEF 1914-1918. He begins with -- who else is possible? -- Robert Graves and 'Good-Bye to all That'. He goes on to the careers of the'medal-hunting' Lord Reith, future Director General of the BBC, the calm and courageous Guardsman Oliver Lyttelton, the brilliant fighter pilots Cecil Lewis and Billy Bishop, two men who protested against the war, Siegfried Sassoon and Max Plowman, and others, ending with two of the four future Prime Ministers who served in that war, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan. Both performed prodigies of courage. Who could have guessed that 'Supermac's limp handshake and strange shuffling walk were the result of true heroism on the Somme? All these wrote memoirs which Professor Bond uses as the basis for his chapters. This is a wonderful and memorable book which should be read by everyone who believes that the human spirit can rise above the horrors of war at its grimmest.
on 28 August 2010
This book is a must for all those interested in the literature and poetry of WWI but more generally anyone who wants to move their understanding of the experience of WWI to a greater depth. It is fundamentally an academic work and details the full spectrum of those who wrote about their experiences in WWI ranging from disillusioned pacifists to borderline sociopaths who revelled in the carnage. It is not a light read as it is a thorough study and requires a firm interest in the subject but is very illuminating. Probably the most interesting and important theme that Professor Bond develops is that the likes of Sassoon and Owen, with their bitter opposition to the war as a futile slaughter of innocents by monstrous and incompetent generals, were far from representative of most of their brothers-in-arms. While the war was clearly an horrific and tragic experience for all who served, the evidence suggests that the vast majority of the combatants did not believe their sacrifice was in vain and were not embittered by it. It was only after the conflict from the 1930's onwards that a body of anti-war literature began to surface as part of a varied selection of WWI memoirs. By the 1960's however, the wholly negative views of the Sasson school was embraced by the British left who eagerly spun it as the one true interpretation of WWI to fit their own anti-establishment agenda. It was thereafter promoted in schools and universities with courses on WWI poets etc and via the popular media : films such as the tasteless and tedious `Oh what a lovely war' and television such as the funny but profoundly banal `Blackadder goes forth' It is therefore useful that Professor Bond has redressed the balance and in so doing hopefully resurrected some of the long forgotten, writers whose long out of print memoirs did not fit comfortably into what the 60's generation establishment would like us to believe. With the advent of the e-book we can only hope our book lists will be less controlled by the what the publishers decide we want to read.