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on 1 January 2013
Reading 'Goodbye to all that' many decades after it was written I found a remarkably frank picture of life of the privileged class prior to, during, and following the 1st World War. The world was changing fast and Graves describes how his conservative parents never forgave him for (eventually) calling himself a socialist.

Graves hated Charterhouse ('from my first moment I suffered an oppression of spirit that I hesitate to recall in its full intensity') and describes how he learned to cope with the totally anti-intellectual values that prevailed. At Charterhouse success in games made the man: he considered cricket the most objectionable because it wasted the most time in the best part of the year. Fortunately boxing success gave Graves the necessary status to cope.

Graves did not suffer fools gladly, and he valued personal strengths - whether found in the so-called privileged or working classes. His honesty here is remarkable.

In his harrowing descriptions of life in the 1st World War trenches I found myself thinking rather along the lines of Black Adder - would I have gone readily 'over the top' (probably), or would I have shown the conspicuous bravery of Graves and many others? (probably not). Survival was a matter of luck, and Graves survived. 'We learned not to duck a rifle bullet because, once heard, it must have missed'. Graves explains that hardly one soldier in a hundred was inspired by religious feeling, even of the crudest kind; and they had little respect for Anglian regimental chaplains who were remarkably out of touch with their troops - they scuttled up to the front to do their job and quickly scuttled back again.

Graves pulled strings to get his own way, and his privileged background helped here. He knew a remarkable number of poets, painters and writers, and his descriptions of these people - for example Thomas Hardy, and Lawrence, is both fair and revealing.

Graves remained a virgin until he married. There was an easy availability of brothels for the WW1 troops, which, together with the knowledge that life in the trenches could be very short, would have tempted many. He came to women late. Graves explains that in English preparatory and public schools romance was necessarily homosexual. The opposite sex was despised and treated as something obscene.

When Graves married, his wife, Nancy, warned him she was a feminist and that he had to be careful about what he said about women. They were both shocked by The Treaty of Versailles which seemed destined to cause another war some day. 'Nancy and I took all this to heart and called ourselves socialists'. Later Nancy wanted somehow 'to be dis-married but not by divorce, ...so that she and I could live together without any legal or religious obligation to do so'.

There are touches of ironic humour such as when an error in a Morse code message sent his battalion to Cork instead of York!

I have my Kindle to thank for leading me to browse and then read this book. I am very glad I did.
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on 11 February 2015
Last year (2014), there were a lot of arguments about the suitability of using the last episode of "Blackadder" (Blackadder goes Forth) to illustrate WW1. Some wrote it was outrageous and over the top. Surely General Melchett (Stephen Fry) as a caricature and the whole thing was an insult to all the brave men that die for "our liberty".
Well, go and read this masterpiece from Robert Graves. Maybe we should not reduce WW1 to Blackadder and Baldrick's antics, but anyone reading this book writing without flourish in a wonderful style will realise that even Melchett pales compared to what happened really. The book is an excellent narrative of the chaos that prevails at every level of the war front. It is a lot more devastating than Blackadder. Yet it would be difficult to dismiss the book as a pure invention. Robert Graves did not cloth Stephen Fry into a Melchett. He met plenty of them.

This book is a must that should be read by our politicians along Ryszard Kapuscincki 's "Another day of Life" and "A woman in Berlin" to understand what war is about and how it ends. It is all the more important that none of the 40 something politicians of the West have a real experience of war, which explains why they are ready to bomb anyone with a different idea, provided they are safe and sound thousand of miles away.
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on 10 March 2016
Speaking of the prose works he wrote after settling near Oxford following the war, Graves says that they “are scrappy [and] not properly considered”. Despite its status as a classic, this work could be described likewise. Spanning the period from his earliest memories from childhood to his time teaching English literature in Cairo in the late 1920s, this book suffers from occasional scrappiness. But it is not for his time in Egypt that the book is known, nor for its account of his years as a boarder at Charterhouse; rather, it is known for the central chapters, taking up the bulk of the book, which recount Graves’s time as a junior officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, stationed on the Western Front during the First World War. I found Graves’s account somewhat matter of fact, and one is left largely to infer his thoughts and feelings about the events he describes. Interestingly, Graves reveals he began a novel about his wartime experiences, but later abandoned it, though he doesn’t say why. But perhaps he felt that prose was not the medium for his thoughts and feelings, and in fact his poetry from the war is more vivid and full of life (and death) and telling imagery than his autobiography, which, while narrated clearly and often engagingly, has a slightly detached air.
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on 7 February 2016
It seems presumptuous to review one of the greatest of all WW1 memoirs (and then not give 5). There is no doubt that this is a highly readable and very interesting account of life in the trenches. One expects the war to be dreadful but what struck me most was the petty and unnecessarily poor way the officers treated each other. Graves himself is about the only person to come out of it even tolerably well and even he can be rather irritating at times. Certainly his attitude to the war is ambivalent – did he really hate it and did he really sign up in 1914 because he was afraid of going to Oxford? For a reader in 2016 the whole book oozes privilege, connections, name-dropping (mostly double-barrelled) and string-pulling. That is why I deducted one star stars – I actually wanted to give 4.5 – that and the fact that rather too much is left out or merely hinted at. His chum Willy was a naughty boy it appears but we are never really trusted with the real nature of the relationship or of his misdemeanours. Perhaps it was not considered necessary to spell out this information to an audience of fellow public school types. (I loved the bit about the headmaster being given 24 hours to leave the country!)
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on 17 May 2009
I read this primarily for my war literature A level exam in a couple of months, and found it far more riveting and moving account of life before, during and after the war than I had anticipated. There are also fascinating accounts of the many literary names that he met in this time, such as Sassoon. My edition is the revised one from the fifties, so i will be looking for the original 1929 edition, which I've read is even more bitter and angry.
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on 1 June 2009
This is a truly fascinating insight into Robert Graves' early life. Among many other things, his description of the Battle of Loos in 1915 - one of the first major British offences of the First World War, and a fine case study in the demerits of poison gas - grips the reader through the understated way in which he catalogues the ongoing chaos and the army's appalling, ad hoc organization. The book also contains countless beautiful vignettes which show how times have changed, such as his sitting behind the lines with fellow officers drinking champagne cocktails before being hurriedly ordered back to lead his Company in an attack. Graves was clearly not an easy man - he managed to quarrel with virtually every friend he ever had - but he has left us an extraordinary and very readable account of life on the Western Front. Anyone who is interested in this most intense of human experiences should read it.
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on 16 October 2015
Graves succeeds in capturing the era prior to WWI at Charterhouse and gives us a depressing and revealing insight into class privilege and how miserable it must have been to endure the antiquated public school system at that time.

His experience in WWI is also compelling and horrific and again reveals many worrying factors regarding the class system and how gentlemen of a higher class would be ranked above working class soldiers with years of battle experience.

Graves himself comes across as a grounded and likeable narrator though as someone said elsewhere this book should have perhaps finished when the war did as it really does begin to run out of steam in the post war years. Overall a decent read that labours in many areas but certainly worth the read if you have the time and patience.
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on 19 June 2011
A very good read, charting the early life of RG from his early childhood and how he hated his time at Charterhouse.He joined up straight from school, fought on the Western Front as a commissioned officer to the time he, his wife and family spent in Egypt when he was a Professor at Cairo University.
This book is an important account of an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and his experiences of the Great War on the Western Front.
I read this book over a weekend I just could not put it down!
Anyone with an interest in WW1 who has read other books on the subject should read this book too!
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on 30 September 2012
Robert Graves served as a front line officer on the western front during some of the heaviest fighting of 1915 and 1916. In 1929, he turned his extensive experience of trench life into the centrepiece of an autobiography called 'Goodbye to All That'. Graves begins the book by describing his family background. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, Graves is from an anglo German family; he had several relatives fighting on the other side and I think this fact colours much of his attitude to the war. Secondly, Graves attended a prestigious public school -Charterhouse- which meant that he could enlist as an officer and rather like George Orwell he seems to have been class conscious from an early age.

Graves was a very brave soldier who led from the front. He was almost fatally wounded at the Somme in July 1916. But it is not only his own experiences that he is keen to chronicle. Graves describes the men of his Royal Welch Regiment vividly. The book is full of the exploits of serving men, such as Lance Corporal Baxter, who attempts a successful rescue of a wounded man from no mans' land; another man is given field punishment number one and Graves agonises over his involvement in the court marshalling of an Irish soldier who cast away arms. Graves' attitudes towards the war seem to be extremely nuanced: he is proud of his ancient regiments' battle honours and he shows no obvious compunction about soldiering and yet he also admires his friend Sigfried Sassoon's principled stand against war.

Graves describes at least one bungled attack (pg 128) when the men of the Middlesex Regiment are simply mowed down and he is frank enough to report on such controversial matters as the killing of POWs and the execution of conscientious objectors. At one point in the book the reader is pulled up sharp when Graves reminds us that he is still, in spite of all of his battlefield experience, only 20 years old! Happily Graves survived the war and by the end of the book he is well on his way to being a successful writer with an unconventional private life (by the standards of the day). The events described in this book are nearly 100 years old now but they remain deeply shocking.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 January 2014
It is as a document of World War One that this book really shines. Robert Graves includes a wealth of little details that bring the day-to-day life of him, and his regiment, to life: the gallows humour, the values of the soldiers, the disillusionment with the war and the staff and yet the loyalty to their officers, the lice, the food, the other privations. It's all there in this excellent memoir. Robert Graves also captures the tragedy and waste of the conflict - friends and fellow soldiers dying or getting wounded all the time. Extraordinary luck means that Robert Graves beat the odds and managed to survive but not without injuries and many brushes with death.

Goodbye to All That was written in 1929, when Robert Graves was 33 years old. Although primarily known as a memoir about Robert Graves' experience of World War One, in which he served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the book opens with his family background, childhood, and education, before - at the outbreak of World War One - he enlists. The book also details his life for the ten years after World War One.

Goodbye to All That is an amazing memoir. For such a short volume Robert Graves packs in so much information and detail, and the book really brings alive day-to-day trench life with all its attendant horrors, boredom, pettiness, depravation, cameraderie and humour. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what life was like in the trenches.
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