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To the Last Ridge: The World War One Experiences of W.H. Downing [Paperback]

W.H. Downing
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Aug 2002
Written just after the heat of the battle and in the language of the time, this is the personal account of an ordinary soldier's experience of one of the most horrific series of battles ever fought. Fleurbaix, Bapaume, Beaumetz, Lagincourt, Bullecourt, The Menin Road, Villers-Bretonneux, Peronne and Mont St. Quentin. Downing describes the mud, the rats, the constant pounding of the guns, the deaths, the futility, but also the humour and the heroism of one of the most compelling periods in world history. His writing is spare but vivid, and presents a graphic description of an ordinary person's struggle to survive. Walter Downing was a Melbourne law student before fighting on the Western Front, where he won the Military Medal.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 207 pages
  • Publisher: Grub Street; 1st edition (1 Aug 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904010202
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904010203
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 275,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, witty and moving read. 21 Nov 2003
Having long been an advocate of the genre of personal reflection, it was a true pleasure to read this magnificent journal following Downing's journey from pre-war Australia to the hell of the Western Front.
One of the selling points of this book is the phraseology and the witty prose that conjures up excellent images of a war torn country seen through the eyes of someone who travelled so far to see it. What really shines through is Downing's stoical appectance that it was his duty to be there, and despite the lice, mud and carnage there is a firm believe that he was doing what was right. The style of writing does take a while to get used to, being written in the vocabulary of the age, but this does not detract from the abject pity that one feels when reading this book.
Downing describes sights and sounds and smells in a way that enables the reader to visualise the awful scenes that the author witnessed day after day.
This is a book that deserves to be up there with the classics such as "With a Machine Gun to Cambrai", "Old soldiers never die" and "Goodbye to all that."
The only way to understand just how good this book really is, is to buy and copy and read it. 10 out of 10!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars With the 5th Australian Division on the Western Front 12 Sep 2010
By John E. Larsen - Published on
Downing served with the 57th Battalion, 5th Australian Division and participated in most of the Western Front battles fought by the A.I.F. He leaves a very clear impression of what the war was like and there is certainly no doubt as to his involvement in the front line and exposure to the horrors there. He describes artillery bombardments frequently and several times notes the awful effect on men's eyeballs. The shelling was constant and deadly - one shell could snatch a dozen lives and in the big battles battalions alone could lose hundreds of men. Given the modern reaction to even single war deaths it is almost impossible to conceive the numbers he commonly mentions here. The actual fighting too is brutal: bombs, bayonets and no quarter are common themes. And all this is in a state of extreme fatigue, amidst the mud and the human detritus and filth from previous actions being continually regurgitated.

First published in 1920, this book seems to be held out as the outstanding example of the WW1 experience of an Australian soldier. `The Australian' calls it `a masterpiece among the chronicles of war' and it certainly has strengths in the area of realism but it has the notable downfall in that the author rarely uses the personal pronoun `I' almost always referring to events from the point of view of his company or battalion. Indeed it's often unclear as to whether he witnessed or participated in particular incidents. He never specifically writes about shooting his rifle and he fails to say anything about being awarded the Military Cross. There is nothing about training and others are only referred to by nickname. I found it hard to identify with the participants. He is slightly more forthcoming about highjinks out of the line but overall it was a bit too impersonal to really engage me.

At times Downing tends to be a little bit hyperbolic but generally his writing style is fine. His descriptions are quite vivid and he is particularly blunt about injuries. Downing certainly had the experiences but here he has written in a collective way rather than of his own deeds. So as a memoir I feel it falls short. Still, there is much of value regarding the Australian experience on the Western Front.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the finest war memoirs ever written 3 Dec 2009
By D. J. Crowe - Published on
This book details the experiences of the author (W.H. Downing) as an Australian infantryman on the Western Front in World War I. Downings writing style is easy to follow and draws the reader in. This book is by no means an authoritative, historical refernce of the great war, rather a compelling account of one particular soldiers experiences. Having read a few books regarding the great war I would personally rate this as one the finest WW1 memoirs I have read, equalled possibly by 'Somme Mud' by E. Lynch, another fantastic account of a soldiers experiences in the trenches.
5.0 out of 5 stars A top history of war 20 Dec 2012
By Philip Eves - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book has what it takes to be a good read. It follows closely the 15th brigade war diaries and adds the human aspect of one who actually fought
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