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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful emotive book
Operational Great War historians may flinch away from books that focus on the trauma and suffering caused by the war. But their analytical work is undermined without an understanding and acceptance of the shock wave that ripples out from the dead soldier at the front to encompass his whole family back at home. An impact that in its longevity far outlasts the momentary...
Published on 3 Nov 2011 by Peter Hart

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars The Quick and the Dead.
I've read a number of Richard van Emden's books and have always enjoyed the read. This one was different because it concentrated almost entirely on the working class. It was as if the other classes accepted the loss of their men without any problems.
Published 10 months ago by Michael Humphrey


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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful emotive book, 3 Nov 2011
By 
Peter Hart (East Finchley) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Operational Great War historians may flinch away from books that focus on the trauma and suffering caused by the war. But their analytical work is undermined without an understanding and acceptance of the shock wave that ripples out from the dead soldier at the front to encompass his whole family back at home. An impact that in its longevity far outlasts the momentary agony and oblivion experienced by the dead themselves. This intriguingly titled book embraces the study of that prolonged anguish head-on.

Richard van Emden looks at the war through a cast of characters which encompass the doomed soldiers and their hapless families. We follow them throughout the war: enlistment and separation, the precious periods of leave, the struggle to survive in reduced circumstances without a man in the house, the catastrophic news of death and the efforts to come terms with that loss. Many of the stories are moving as evinced by this sad account of how Lucy Neale was parted from her father as he returned to the front from leave.

"It was a ten-minute walk, I suppose, but we didn't hurry, we just I walked slowly up the hill and I really can't remember what we talked about. I held on to his hand so tight, and when we got to the top, he said, "I won't take you any further, you must go back now, and I'll stand here and watch you until you're out of sight," and he put his arms round me and held me so close to him; I remember feeling how rough that khaki uniform was. "You must go now, wave to me at the bottom, won't you?" I went, I left him standing there and I went down the hill and I kept looking back and waving and he was still there, just standing there. I got to the bottom and then I'd got to turn off to go to where we lived, so I stopped and waved to him and he gestured as much as to say, "Go on, you must go home now," ever so gently gestured and then he waved and he was still waving when I went, and that was the last time I ever saw him."

Another character, Lily Baron, was ninety-eight when she finally got to visit her father's grave at Bourlon Wood in France. He had been killed during the Battle of Cambrai back in November 1917 when she was just five years old. She left a little note on his grave, "Thank-you for five years of real happiness - I've missed you all my life." Thousands of small-scale human tragedies like these are the reality behind the mayhem on the Western Front. Every attack, every heroic defence, every routine day in the trenches - they all killed fathers, husbands, sons and lovers. This is the inevitable brutality of war.

Richard van Emden has chosen his sources well, mingling his own research and interviews with the stories of better known characters such as Harry Lauder and Vera Brittain. They collectively tell the story. The agonies suffered and the desperate hopes that the 'missing' might still be alive. The activities of heartless confidence tricksters such as the nefarious Edward Page Gaston who promised to use 'contacts' in Germany to track down missing soldiers. The time-honoured crutches of religion and its disreputable cousin, spiritualism. The charlatan 'mediums' who claimed to be able to contact the dead. The harsh practicalities and grinding hard work of life bereft of a husband or father. Many wives faced the harrowing question of whether to stay true to their dead husband in poverty, or marry again in the hope of a more comfortable life. Their children had to choose whether to accept or reject a stepfather arriving to replace a beloved dead father. There are many accounts describing the overwhelming emotions of post-war visits to battlefields and wonderfully kept war graves. Overall the process of burial and commemoration is very well covered with a good deal of interesting material on the decision not to repatriate the corpses of the dead and the imaginative gesture of allowing the retrieval and burial in state of the 'Unknown Soldier' to stand as 'everyman' for all the missing.

Finally this book achieves all this without feeling the need to appoint scapegoats for the deaths at the front. There are no ringing condemnations of 'butchers and bunglers' to undo this carefully weighted and nuanced account. Throughout it is tacitly accepted that if Britain is at war with the continental power of Imperial Germany backed by huge military resources and with millions marching to war then the consequences will inevitably be horrendous. Richard van Emden in other words is a mature historian who has performed a valuable role in drawing our attention to the human consequences of war: a lesson that surely even the most ardent of armchair generals should never be allowed to forget.

Peter Hart, November 2011
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Quick and the Dead, 3 Nov 2011
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.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking, 15 Jun 2012
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This review is from: The Quick and the Dead: Fallen Soldiers and Their Families in the Great War (Paperback)
I cannot recommend this book highly enough,it should be read in every secondary school.The massive impact the great war had on families back home is brought to life from the letters and memories within.
It is very hard emotionally to read,but for me, it really opened up the reality of the loss, the fear , the dread and hopelessness of the soldiers and their families and the situation they were thrown into in such a war.It is a heartbreaking but essential read.These men and their families ,who sacrificed so much, must never be forgotten.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant - moving and fascinating, 17 April 2012
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I romped through this book, gripped by it. Drawn from interviews, letters and diaries, it gives an insight into the impact of the Great War on soldiers and families, their grief and stoicism as well as the sheer enormity of the conflict undertaking from the basics - the peacetime order for boots was 245,000 pairs; in the autumn of 1914 the army looked for 6.5 million - to the return of the dead's belongings. Fascinating and swallowingly moving.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading - absolutely fantastic book!, 7 Nov 2011
The immediate horrors of war are clear for all to see. During the Great War, this was more evident than ever before as millions of men paid the ultimate price for fighting for their country and a cause they believed in.

What isn't so immediately obvious are the tragic consequences for those left behind whose lives would never be the same again. This aspect of the War is often overlooked but the implications on the families and communities affected would change the country forever.

In this fascinating book, Richard Van Emden tells the stories of those who were left to cope with the loss of their closest family members; husbands, fathers, brothers and sons were all casualties of the war to end all wars and their loss would be felt by relatives for the rest of their lives.

This is a heart wrenching book and will often leave you extremely touched by the memories of the family members interviewed. This is immediately felt in the book's introduction where Lily Baron remembers her father who she lost at the age of five. Upon visiting his resting place, Lily leaves a wreath and a card saying 'Thank you for five years of real happiness - I've missed you all my life.' It's at this point you swallow hard and the real, incredibly personal, impact of the war becomes even clearer.

There are many similar stories contained and each make for fascinating reading. In an unexpected, but in hindsight obvious contrast, the book also tells the stories of the men whose families were happier without them.

The Quick and the Dead then moves on to the efforts by families to have their relatives brought home for burial and to be commemorated on memorials. Particularly touching are the experiences of those whose family members were shot at dawn who were not able to express their grief in the same way as other families. The loss also marked the first ever battlefield tours, as families visited the sites where their family members fell.

The author captures the contrast of emotions particularly well ranging from the immediate grief and devastation felt, through anger and outrage to the need to remember and commemorate those lost. This need to ensure that lives hadn't been lost for no reason, moved many family members to push to achieve and many of those interviewed express that this need has indeed been the reason for their own personal successes.

As with all Richard Van Emden books, the material is all new and won't have been read elsewhere. No other historian puts so much work into uncovering new stories, both through interviews with living relatives and by scouring archives up and down the country for new and original material.

The Quick and the Dead is an absolutely superb book, incredibly moving but also shocking at times. It is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the Great War but is also so much more than that. It is an important piece of Britain's social history, often overlooked, that marks and explains how the war would change the country forever.

Extremely highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Gets Top Marks., 31 July 2014
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This is a fabulous but very saddening book. It is an easy read, being well written. It is different fromother WW1 factual books as it really goes behind the scenes somewhat to the experiences of families at home and also those at war on the Western Front. It does it with so much ease for the reader, which is testament to the author's research and his skill in transferring the information to book format. A wonderful piece of text to treasure. I believe that this book should be used in schools as an educating tool as it provides a picture that no other book, at least that I know of, produces. It would be especially useful if read prior to, or after, a WW1 War Graves visit.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A REAL INSIGHT INTO THE GREAT WAR, 21 July 2012
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R. Stansfield "Yorkatt" (York, U.K.) - See all my reviews
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Excellent book which really helps you understand the thoughts and emtions of not only those who fought but those who were left behind. I have many books on the Great War but this ranks with the very best.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exceptional Book, 18 Sep 2014
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Thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even more so as I was in France touring the battlefields at the time. This book is well written and researched, it is easy to forget those who were left to cope with the tragedies of war, even more so now, as we commemorate those who fell 100 years ago.

I look forward to reading more from this author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible read, 5 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Quick and the Dead: Fallen Soldiers and Their Families in the Great War (Paperback)
Richard Van Emden does it again. What an incredibly informative read with such detail within the book. Many highlights which bring me to think of my own Great Grandfather who was killed in 1917 leaving a wife and 3 children.

This book illustrates life for everyone effected by death from the soldiers to the family at home. Absolutely incredible read.

I have always enjoyed Richards books but this seems to top some of the best writing. In fact I would probably say this for all of Richards Van Emdens books.

Presented in a mannor and context that is easy to understand.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than just letters...., 31 May 2014
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I have read several books about the Great War but this brought tears to my eyes and I had to stop and give myself a rest from it. It was heart breaking. Yet it was compelling reading. The letters from soldier to family and back again was such an insight as to how death was just around the corner at all times and made a knot in my stomach. I felt each soldier and his fate belonged to me personally; had we been born 100 years ago those boys would have been ours My grandmother lost her husband October 1916 after only one year of marriage. His body was never found. I have the letters from the War Office telling her that he was missing and months later that he had to be presumed dead. Cold standard letters. My grandmother being addressed as Madam, so impersonal. Sadly,she never spoke about him. I felt my grandmother's grief on every page.
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