The Quick and the Dead looks at the desperate plight of soldiers in France and simultaneously, the struggle of the families at home, which to my knowledge hasn't been written about before. The book describes what it meant to be a soldier separated from his family, wondering whether they would ever see them again. At the same time their wives struggling under the enormous burden of trying to hold a family together, while always fearing that knock on the door and the telegram that their husband had died.
What makes this book are the interviews with the last children of those who fell in action. Emden has interviewed perhaps two dozen children and their stories are heartbreaking. There is an interview with Clara Whitfield, who is aged 104, speaking of the work she had to undertake after the death of her father, the old hands she had as a ten year old scrubbing floors to supplement the family income. Her last words, 'Life! I could tell you something but I won't bore you with my tears', brought a lump to my throat.
The book delves into areas I knew nothing about. There are the fraudsters preying on the desperation of families, promising to find missing men in return for money, and the families themselves, distraught that their loved ones would remian overseas and who took it upon themselves to go and dig up their relatives in the hope of smuggling them home.
For me it is the living testimony that is so gripping, the tragedy of war brought home and the lives of the children who had to suddenly grow up. The loss never goes away. 'Thank you for the five years of happiness,' wrote one 98 year old on a wreath to her father, 'I have missed you all my life'.
I loved this book and would definitely recomend it.