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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book everyone interested in WW1 needs to read
There has been considerable debate on the internet about the title of this book which comes from a quote by Robert Graves of 2/Royal Welch Fusiliers who wrote: "A soldier who had the honour to serve with one of the better divisions....could count on no more than three months' trench service before being wounded or killed; a junior officer a mere six weeks". So he wasn't...
Published on 8 July 2011 by Willyum R

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12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete
If you're looking for a book which seeks to establish a link between the Public School system and the success of the British Army in the Great War, then look no further. John Lewis Stempel's Six Weeks is as much an ode to Britain's many Public Schools as it is to the officers of the British Army.

The same attitude pervades almost every aspect of the book but...
Published on 30 Jan. 2012 by D. Jones


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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book everyone interested in WW1 needs to read, 8 July 2011
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There has been considerable debate on the internet about the title of this book which comes from a quote by Robert Graves of 2/Royal Welch Fusiliers who wrote: "A soldier who had the honour to serve with one of the better divisions....could count on no more than three months' trench service before being wounded or killed; a junior officer a mere six weeks". So he wasn't saying that six weeks was LIFE EXPECTANCY since only approx. a third of casualties were fatalities: but that this was how long an officer lasted before being a casualty of some kind. This has exercised quite a number of people, and alas has led them not to take the book as seriously as they should.

That quibble apart, this is a well-researched, well-written book, and it is amazing that The Great War, the most written-about war of all time surely, should have a huge gap that this book is able to fill: namely the role, life and (sadly mostly) death of the junior officer on the Western Front.

I came to this book whilst researching my grandfather's Great War. The son of a Glasgow shop-keeper, he volunteered to join the 5th Scottish Rifles in Oct 1914 as a Private, and was commissioned into the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers in Jan 1916 as a 2nd Lieutenant, ending the war as a Captain. Wounded three times (a bullet through the arm at St Eloi, buried-alive by a howitzer-shell but dug up badly bruised and shell-shocked on the Somme, badly gassed and temporarily blinded 10 days before the end of the war) he later became a doctor, and died aged 92.

The junior British infantry officer suffered higher casualties than virtually any other class of soldier in any army during WW1, and this book has given me a unique insight into the day-to-day duties and life of unimportant junior officers such as my grandfather, who has consequently greatly risen in my estimation: I highly recommend it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of the war the officers knew, 21 Jun. 2011
"Six Weeks" is sub-titled "the Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War". It's a detailed, compelling and fascinating account of the Great War from the perspective of the British junior officer - the first and second lieutenants and captains on the Western Front. There are many books focusing on the lives of British soldiers in the War, often from the perspective of the British Tommy. But this is the officers' story. It is a book about (to paraphrase another famous title) "the war the officers knew".

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It's comprehensive, following the service history of officers from school, through training, to the trenches, and into battle. The journey traces the time after combat, looking at "rest and leave" hospitalization and (all too often) death.

It is a book which is rich with period details. Some of these are from a world which has passed up by - the world of the personal servant and of utterly rigorous class divisions. Other period details are infinitely personal, including the letters written by the officers to their wives and children. There are first-hand quotations from a wide variety of sources (including letters and diaries). The photographs are of excellent quality, most of which I had not seen before. Certain sections of the book are unremittingly grim, although parts are light hearted and amusing.

In all, "Six Weeks" is an excellent read which I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in the Great War, and anyone interested in any war from the perspective of a junior officer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Timely Reminder., 10 Oct. 2011
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It has been fashionable for some time to misuse the quotation 'Lions led by Donkeys' (possibly from the Crimean War and used by the late Alan Clark for the title of his book 'Donkeys'). It was originally a criticism of the High Command, especially in the Great War. It was never intended to apply to the junior officer in the trenches but is all too frequently so used nowadays.

This book is a marvellous, and desperately tragic, account of the spirit, gallantry and also the depth of the thousands of officers who fought, and so often perished, in that most terrible of wars. It is a most timely reminder of the truth about a generation of men whose loss left the country bereft of its very best. We still feel the lack of such men and their qualities.

This book should be read by anyone with an interest in the way the twentieth century unrolled.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In awe of this book, 3 Oct. 2012
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This review is from: Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War: The Life and Death of the British Officer in the First World War (Paperback)
On second reading, I'm still in awe of this book. 'Six Weeks' is a brilliant piece of wide-ranging research, beautifully organised and written, which traces the life of a typical front-line officer in the First World War from school and university, through volunteering and training to front line service and the alternate pathways of death or survival. Every detail imaginable is covered: uniform and weapons, means of transport, leave, medical treatment, the growing contribution of the 'Temporary Gentlemen', the cost of survival.... On a basis of solid factual information, the author uses the words and experiences of many young officers to build the picture and he pays his subjects the compliment of listening to them and presenting the war as they knew it, not as later generations have imagined it to have been.

A book on this subject was long overdue. It's hard to imagine that anyone could have done it better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 6 weeks, the life expectancy of an officer in ww1., 6 Dec. 2011
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I have just finished reading this book, a very good read about the lives of junior officers in WW1.
We all think of the officers who served in the trenches of WW1 as jumped up young bucks from a priviliged background, as portrayed in "Blackadder goes forth" the BBC2 comedy series from a few years ago.
But as I read this book my opinion is changing, YES they did come from well to do backgrounds, most of them, public school and all that.
The lads that became officers in WW1 mostly had some sort of military training prior to the war, they were the product of the public school Officer training corps.
But some did get commissions via the old boys network.
These guys had no problem in standing up to be counted and fought for their country, joining in the war straight from school, knowing full well they might not come back, as many didn't, dying on the battlefield leading their men over the top into battle and certain death.
It was the generals and the other senior officers that were cowering in their HQs far from the front that were the people to blame for the carnage of the Western front etc.
The junior officers faced death along with the other ranks, living side by side in the filth and mud of the trenches, no comfy quarters for the junior officers, just the squalor of living in the trenches!
A very good read for anyone who wants to know more about a soldiers life in the trenches of the Western Front during WW1.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding but sad, 16 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War: The Life and Death of the British Officer in the First World War (Paperback)
I bought this book on the strength of reviews on Amazon and found the book a very poignant reminder of the destruction of youth and the futility of war.It also is outstanding in the potrayal of the fate of those who became officers at the tender age of 17 or 18 and who commanded men who were far older than them-having gone through the comissions board in 1972 and been under the control of the Irish Guards i know how difficult this must have been.The book however punches its weight and does leave you rather drained at the destruction of the great and those that would have been great-it was interesting to hear how the war shaped the future political careers of Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillon.All in all a great read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartrending, 29 Oct. 2012
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This review is from: Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War: The Life and Death of the British Officer in the First World War (Paperback)
This is the most evocative account of the First World War experience that I have read in recent years, on a level with 'The War the Infantry Knew' by Capt. J.C. Dunn. It describes an ethic of selfless courage and gallantry, often in the face of disillusion, which can rarely have been matched in any other time or country. These young officers were genuine heroes. The first- hand accounts are vivid, intense and contemporary in expression: one easily forgets that they were written a century ago. The author has collated them skilfully under a series of themes, in many cases following individual careers, all too often cut short. Very highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The True Lions of the Great War, 9 April 2015
The truth of the Great War is that in the end it came down to which army could take the most punishment. Ultimately it was the British Army's resilience when the French were on their knees and the Americans had not even come into the war and when they did not in enough numbers until the end, that gave the allies victory. Yet for too long the history of the Great War has been spoiled for almost a century by Marxist revisionist histories that have lionised the lowly private and held the officer class as akin to butchers. Yet the truth is the BEF is almost certainly the finest army that Britain ever put into the field, man for man the small British professional army was head and shoulders above their continental rivals, but this was a war on a grand scale and so once the BEF had been sacrificed for France's liberty in 1914, Britain like their neighbours had to conscript civilians for the first time into army. For all we memorialise our fallen heroes from the Great War, the fact remains civilians recruited on mass are not particularly effective soldiers, many of them are mentally or physically unfit for such a profession in normal life they would never chose and so often the best army will be the best led. One of the great strengths of the British army was the junior officer, whose bravery is oft ignored even though they had were statistically the most likely to die as they were expected to lead from the front. This book goes some way to rehabilitate their reputation and explain how they helped to win the war.

This book is unashamedly pro-public school. It explains how by a complete freak accident, an entire generation of young men (often mere boys) that Britain had, to paraphrased Rupert Brooke, bore and shaped into the perfect material to be junior officers in this new type of war. This book explains how the late Victorian militarism, the British class system, public school education, and the muscular Christianity all allowed these boys to command men under horrific conditions whilst showing no "funk".

There are other books on this subject, most notably "Playing the Game: The British Junior Infantry Officer on the Western Front 1914-18 by Christopher Moore-Bick" which is ultimately more academic but less popular due to the ensuing style. In truth it is best to read both to get a true understanding of the subject.

I am an old boy of one of the schools mentioned in the book, and like many similar families to my own, my ancestors matriculated at these schools and then went on to be subalterns in the Great War. In my case there were six junior officers in my family of whom two never returned. Yet I have to give this book only four stars because I think in the hazy romanticism of the upbringing of these young men, which did truly help them win the war, there is at times a lack of critical assessment of how inevitably as with all things, it had a downside.

Nevertheless these is a brilliant, emotive, often sad book that is a great tribute to the thousands of subalterns often just out of school who fought, and died leading what were often platoons of inexperienced civilian soldiers in one of the grimmest wars in our history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most moving recent books about WW1, 13 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War: The Life and Death of the British Officer in the First World War (Paperback)
We don't look on World War 1 through the same eyes as those who fought in it, and even those who fought were changed by the experience so their perception often differs now compared with their young selves. This book puts you in the mind of the generally young (often ridiculously young) subaltern who formed the basis of authority in the trenches and who faced the same dangers and horrors as the men who they led. Indeed they faced greater danger than the men they led because the subalterns led from the front and were specifically targeted by German snipers - giving them an average life-expectancy of just six weeks. This book gives these young men (boys, really, in many cases) room to speak for themselves whilst also providing a wealth of relevant background detail. What emerges is not the brainless gung-ho George of Blackadder, but a generation brought up to believe in a sense of individual responsibility and duty, and they believed that it was right to stop the German war machine from simply walking through Belgium and France to absorb them into a 'Greater Germany'. Perhaps more importantly, and what comes through so vividly in the book, is the fact that they believed it was their responsibility and duty to lead - which for them, in the true sense of leadership, meant that they put the needs of their men above their own needs, no matter how tired, no matter how hungry, no matter how scared they themselves felt. While we are encouraged nowadays to think of young upper-class men from those times as arrogant and heedless of the sufferings experienced by those lower down the social scale, the voices emerging from this book reveal that subalterns were often cherished, even loved, by the men they led, and the distress felt by these men when their subaltern was killed speaks more eloquently about the true nature of such individuals than the undoubtedly hilarious pronouncements of George in Blackadder. The subjects of this book believed in what they were doing despite the appalling reality of how it was to be done, they were not blind to the fact that they were quite likely to be killed or maimed but they led from the front in spite of this, and their greatest fear was not reserved for their own safety but the fear that they might let down their men, their family and their school by failing to do their duty. The individuals who people these pages are quite extraordinary in a way which rightly inspires admiration rather than ridicule, even in this modern age.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The hell of WWI, 18 Oct. 2014
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G. J. Weeks (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War: The Life and Death of the British Officer in the First World War (Paperback)
Those most likely to die in WWI were the young junior officers leading the men in the trenches, a life expectancy of six weeks. They were on the whole young public school boys trained in their schools' Officer Training Corps. Their background was upper and upper middle class. Taught to be loyal, patriotic and Christian they quickly learned how to command and lead men who were usually older. They established bonds that transcended class divides. They above all showed courage under fire and proved to be men that others would gladly follow. This book paints the grim reality of life in the trenches, shells and shrapnel, mud and vermin, cold and wet. These officers would lead night patrols to enemy lines, some delighted in being snipers. All were ready to go over the top often nonchalantly smoking pipe or cigarette. The horrors and the bravery are here with wounds and death aplenty. Many excepts from letters home and last letters to be open-end in the event of death. There is a lot of poetry. I think this book gives you a real feel of the war in the trenches.
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