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5.0 out of 5 stars
The Soldiers' War, 28 Dec 2008
There are a couple of truisms about the Great War: that it was a famously squalid and horrible four years entailing the senseless loss of swathes of Europe's youth; and that it was the war that the combatants (such as my own grandfather) would never talk about.
It's in this context that this is such a good book. It builds up a compelling, multi-layered body of evidence about the daily (and nightly) experience of the soldiers. No matter how well we might feel we understand the war - not least from fictional works such as Pat Barker's 'Regeneration' trilogy, or Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong - there is something extraordinary about being told, in the words of those who were there, why there was a general order not to shoot rats, what it was like to watch a firing squad shoot a deserter, and how poison gas moved across the battlefield.
There are numerous frank admissions of terror, as well as the personal means by which the soldiers (both Tommies and officers) overcame this. There are also numerous descriptions of the appalling carnage and the casually witnessed dead - the soldiers playing cards using as their table the level back of a frozen soldier. For the generations that knew such scenes had taken place, but had not found a relative prepared to talk about it, this is an engrossing and important book.