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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 September 2013
Written by one of Britain's foremost experts on the First World War this fascinating book provides a refreshingly different take on what must be one of the most written about conflicts in history. Van Emden specialises in first-person testimonies of the Great War and here he uses his considerable knowledge and resources to illustrate the depth of the tragedy which befell the people of Britain and Germany when their countries went to war in 1914.

Examining the pre-war social, political, economic and cultural ties that existed between Germany and Great Britain, van Emden notes that in 1914 the Germans were the 3rd largest immigrant group in Britain and there were tens of thousands of German-owned businesses across the country and inter-marriage was common. Indeed, one of the most revealing things in this book is how the German people, from the Kaiser down, just couldn't believe that the British - with whom they had so much in common - had gone to war with them in the first place.

Once war had been declared though, Anglo-German relations deteriorated quickly - especially on the home front. Thousands of 'aliens' were interned in both Britain and Germany and numerous families were split up by the rigid internment process. Attitudes hardened even more as the war progressed and in both countries 'enemy aliens' were singled out for rough treatment. When the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915 the city of Liverpool erupted in anti-German violence and rioting crowds smashed up German-owned businesses in Everton and Birkenhead. Yet on the battlefield itself things could be quite different. As one Tommy recalled: "the nearer you were to the battle the less hate there was".

There are numerous examples here of personal contacts between German and British soldiers which reflect well on the characters of those involved. When one German soldier found a British Tommy severely injured in a shell hole he dressed his wounds and then carried him to a main road where he hoped he would be picked up and taken to hospital. Each night until he was collected he would visit his "poor friend" to give him "some tea and water" and "tuck him up as well and as warm as I could". Finally, the injured man was collected and taken to hospital where, sadly - and unbeknown to the German who had rescued and cared for him - he died of his wounds a few days later. It also appears that truces and fraternisation were far more common than was generally acknowledged and van Emden is to be congratulated for bringing this little-known side of the First World War to a wider audience.

As well as the general decency of the men involved in the fighting their sense of honour was sometimes quite profound. In a remarkable example of honesty, Robert Campbell, a British Captain, held as a POW by the Germans, wrote to the Kaiser asking for two weeks leave to go home and visit his dying mother. Incredibly the Kaiser agreed and granted his request. Once home, the officer was only bound to return by his word as a British Officer yet, almost unbelievably, he returned as promised. Once back in Germany and freed from his 'bond of honour', he spent the rest of the war trying to escape back to England.

This book has opened a new perspective on the First World War for me and reading it has changed the way I think about the conflict. I'd highly recommend it to any one interested in the Great War or early twentieth century Anglo-German relations. I notice that Mr van Emden also makes TV documentaries and it would be great if he was able to bring a TV version of "Meeting the Enemy" to the small screen in time for next year's centenary of the Great War.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2014
This book looks at the Great War from a totally different perspective than any I have come across before. It looks at the civilians "casualties" caused by pre-War mixed marriages between British and German subjects. Because of some often bizarre government legislation on all sides, many of these people were left almost stateless, unable to move around freely, treated as guilty spies and harassed by an over zealous system.
It also looks at combat situations in a different light where Christmas truces extended in some cases into the New Year, where "Gentlemen's agreements" led to long spells where the two sides communicated quite freely and openly agreed not to shoot each other until, in most cases the inevitable orders from above saw them throwing everything into what is seen as the general picture of this awful War, trying every means possible to wipe the opposition off the face of the Earth.
Fascinating personal accounts, an extremely well researched subject and an easy style of writing make this an overall five star read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 15 June 2014
A fascinating insight into how we treat one another in war, but not just at the sharp end where soldiers are expected, indeed told to kill each other, but how so many innocent English born women who had been living quite happily in England for years and years suddenly became unwelcome 'resident aliens' simply because they had married a German or an Austrian, and were treated abysmally by insensitive and bloody minded bureaucrats at the instigation of HMG. It was not, however, a one way street, because the same impositions were applied just as vigorously by the German Government to English-born residents living in Germany .

But the book also covers what it was like for soldiers on both sides in the trenches, with examples of 'pure humanity' alongside accounts of totally impersonal cold blooded killing and hatred.

This book is up there alongside All Quite on the Western Front with regard the utter futility and pain and suffering during the First World War, a lesson that mankind still does not appear to have heeded
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2014
This is my 2nd book by Richard Van Emden (the first being Boy Soldiers and the 3rd being The Quick and The Dead)

This really is a facinating read covering the truces of 1914 and 1915 as well as the suprising political talks between Germany and England (and visa versa) thoughout the war. I really did enjoy this book.

This book covers everything from the home front to life in Germany. Most suprising of all is the English priest with full assess to places around Germany.

I have to be quite frank but reading Richards books conveys the human aspect of war covering emotions and unseen diary and pictorial evidence. Lots of time and effot has gone into these books and you can tell.

For me if you get a chance to buy a book from Richard Van Emden no matter what the title or date published you are getting an incredible read.

I have just Ordered the Trench and looking forward to reading Richards latest book Tommy's War.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2014
An excellent read about the rarely visited social aspects of WW1. Excellently researched, the author writes in plain easy to follow English making it a pleasure to read. Very highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2013
This is the most interesting book I have read for a long time. The story of Capt Campbell's leave from Magdeburg POW camp is almost unbelievable and that of Major Yate's suicide so sad.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2014
Another excellent book about the Great War by an author who clearly knows his stuff !!! This book tells the story of the war...year by year...using the actual words of some of the soldiers who fought on the Western Front. So moving. So humbling. How they endured what they did just beggars belief.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 December 2014
This book told me things I really did not know about my own country. For instance I did not know that when British women married a foreigner they lost their British nationality and had to take on their husband's. The same applied when a German woman married a British man, she became British and lost her German nationality. Ironically the British wife became an alian and the German wife was treat as though she has been born and bred a Briton. Some of the things that went on both on and behind the battlefield, at home and in Germany, you wouldn't believe. Buy this book, you will enjoy it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2013
Arrived well packed and quickly. It's a book I have been waiting to read and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Anybody with an interest in WW1 history will enjoy this alternative look at the conflict
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2014
The author writes of a tragic period in European history which still has ramifications for today's international disturbances as many are rooted in this dreadful war.Yet he has captured the common humanity of soldiers who were not motivated by hate,but who actually shared mutual horrors and yet on a personal level there were those capable of rising above such deprivation. The examples of class differences also reflect a time gone forever, no bad thing either considering today's problems.
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