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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves to be back in print!
I first read this book when it was published as 'Middles Parts of Fortune', one of the few unexpurgated versions to appear with Manning named as author.
This novel fictionalises Manning's own war experiences. Although highly literate, he served throughout as a private. The book thus offers us a very rare insight into the Great War through the eyes of one of the...
Published on 20 April 2001

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3.0 out of 5 stars The pity of war...
Gives a graphic image of the everyday awfulness of life in the trenches. Brought home to me how much of their time was spent in apparently aimless marching from location to location, billet to billet in between the more dramatic attacks on the enemy's front line. Manning gets under the skin of the serving Tommy and brings out the subtle variations in the way they viewed...
Published 8 months ago by Richie


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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves to be back in print!, 20 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Her Privates We (Paperback)
I first read this book when it was published as 'Middles Parts of Fortune', one of the few unexpurgated versions to appear with Manning named as author.
This novel fictionalises Manning's own war experiences. Although highly literate, he served throughout as a private. The book thus offers us a very rare insight into the Great War through the eyes of one of the otherwise silent but multitudinous 'other ranks'. Other contemporary accounts of the war were written by junior officers, but their experiences would have necessarily been very different from those of their men. Indeed, part of Manning's gift is that he offers us a view of these officers as seen by those who served under them.
What makes Manning's book so very memorable is that he deals with companionship rather than battles. The book starts with the protagonists coming back down the line from battle, and ends with them going back over the top. In between, he recreates the comradeship experienced by a group of men who were having to survive in a surreal world where the reason for their being there was beyond their comprehension.
In my view, this is the best book to have come out of the Great War. Now it's back in print, there is no excuse for anyone not to read it!
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic, 22 April 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Her Privates We (Paperback)
Well. I wanted to know what it was like in the trenches that my grandfathers, as ordinary rank and file, fought. And so, this is it. Boredom, comradeship, bad language, and occasional harsh brutality. If you want to know what they experienced, then I'm pretty sure this is the book. Indeed, I can truly say that whilst reading this I felt physically sick at times, because it was so graphic and well told.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging story of companionship during the great war., 15 Dec 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Her Privates We (Paperback)
Probably the best novel to come out of WWI, Manning includes some well thought out analysis of the effects of a battle situation on men and on groups of men.
Besides his asides on the inevitiblity but also the futiltiy of war; we are treated to a very touching story of companionship under times of great stress. Much of the action takes place behind the lines in the bars and restaurants of the Somme region. Bourne, knows he is different and better educated etc. and is comfortable with officer and soldier class alike. He is soon pressured into going for a comission and although not overly keen, he sees that it is inevitable. He decides to go over the top one more time before being sent back for officer training.
A thoroughly good read, I can honestly reccomend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Her Privates We, 11 Dec 2008
By 
Mr. D. L. Murphy (Bath) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Her Privates We (Paperback)
I have only read this book in it's censored version, and it is still one of the best books written about the the Great War. It is moving and uncompromising and gives a fascinating insight into life as a private in the trenches. Now it is back in print, definitely buy it. Up until recently it has been very difficult to get hold of. While you're at it, buy 'All Quiet on The Western Front' as an interesting view from the other side.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Insight Into A Private's WWI, 7 Mar 2007
By 
This review is from: Her Privates We (Paperback)
An excellent book, very insightful and feeling true to life and surprisingly modern. It probably does more than any other book to convey the comradeship, boredom, vices, unease and terror of war. There is also a dark humour running through it - stories away from the front and regarding the work and systems the army operated at the time. The officer class is seen from a private's eyes - and it seems quite fair.

Fate, superstition and traditions play their part, but fatalism overrides everything.

Armies make war, people die and this book brings them to life brilliantly
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All peace is happy (in a very relative sense)..., 5 Mar 2012
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Her Privates We (Paperback)
... each war is unhappy (by contrast) in its own way. With apologies for roughly paraphrasing, and utilizing Tolstoy's first sentence in Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics).

Frederic Manning was an Australian who saw action on the Western Front, with the British Army, during World War I. He enlisted, and served as a private, in the trenches, along the Somme sector. He missed the day of ultimate devastation for the British Army, July 1, 1916; on that date approximately 20,000 British soldiers were killed, 35,000 were wounded. Manning spent four months in this sector, in the autumn of 1916. This novel is heavily based upon his experience; to use an expression from a later war, it is a "grunts-eye" view of war, one of the unhappier ones in terms of utter carnage. Manning probably had some "personal problems" prior to the war; as is so often the case, they were only exacerbated by the war, and he heavily relied on the "medicine" that is alcohol to "help him get through the night." The "catharsis" of writing this book was not sufficient. He died at age 52.

Manning loved his Shakespeare. Each chapter commences with an epigraph from The Bard. The title is a quote from Hamlet (Classics Illustrated), from a dialog, I had long forgotten, between Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It refers to the ultimate arbitrator in war: Fortune, which Hamlet calls a strumpet. And in her private parts is where R & G dwell, as well as soldiers in the Somme sector.

World War I was the end of an era which spanned numerous millenniums in terms of how wars were fought. From the battles between the ancient Greeks and the Persians, through the Roman Empire, up through the American Civil War, wars had overwhelmingly been conducted by having groups of men on opposing sides, charge each other, and fight, uptight, and personal. After WWI, "death at a distance" through aerial bombing and artillery, became much more the norm. Manning depicts the "over the top" charges of the infantry, and the small unit combat.

But the greater portion of the book is not about actual combat. It concerns the living arrangements of the men along the front, the friendships that are established, and the views of the privates towards the military hierarchy. It is the lice, and the rats, as well as the weather. French civilians continued to live near this very active battlefield, and the soldier's interactions are described. It was possible, apparently, for the soldiers who were not in the front-line trenches to go to the equivalent of a local, low-class pub. One of Manning's quips is that the French beer is so bad that it is enough to make you pro-German! There are the distinctions between the enlisted men and the conscripts which I noted a half century later. Manning can be more than sardonic towards what we called the REMF's (which must remain as initials for those with "sensitivities"): "You can't put eight hundred fighting men into the line, without having another eight hundred useless parasites behind them pinching the stores" (p.191). Manning seemed to get so much right, that transcends the particularities of WWI. In terms of the wounded: "...but he had vanished completely, so completely that Bourne did not even expect to hear from him again. Men passed out of sight like that, and seemed to leave very little trace. Their term had been completed."

William Boyd, in his introduction, discusses how this is the "unexpurgated version." When it was first published, in 1929, it was seriously "bowdlerized," for the above mentioned "sensitivities." It reminded me of the person who had written into Life Magazine, after they had published pictures of the My Lai massacre, criticizing the magazine for publishing a photo that included the bare bottom of an infant who had been killed. The letter writer was a metaphorical descendant of those whose primary concerns were about "bad language" in describing one of the ultimate horrors of the last century. I had to chuckle when Boyd stated that T.E. Lawrence "claimed" that he had read the book three times within six weeks of its publication. Boyd was wise enough to use the term "claimed" for someone famous for his elasticity with the truth.

This was Manning's one great book. One of the best written by a British author on WWI. For the quintessential book on this war, I still believe it came from the other side, Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. More succinct, and more comprehensive, at the same time. The denouement to both novels is the same, however. 5-stars for Manning's stellar effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WW1 as seen by the rank & file, 9 Nov 2014
By 
Marand (Warwickshire) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
Although published as a novel, this book reflects Manning's own experience of WWI. Manning, like the main character Bourne, was older & better educated than the men with whom he served, and no doubt would have been expected to serve as an officer rather than a private. Much of the 'action' takes place behind the lines and the narrative conveys the companionship, boredom, fear, frustration and stoicism of military life. The novel also brings you up short by reminding you of just how young some of the soldiers were, a factor which is given added emphasis by the comparison between Bourne and his younger comrades.

There is a tremendous sense of immediacy about the writing, almost a documentary quality. Unlike most war memoirs this is the story of the rank and file, not the officer class. It is also notable that the view of the officers is much less antagonistic than in other war memoirs I have read. This is the unexpurgated version and benefits from the language that was stripped out of the sanitised version of the novel. In his introduction, William Boyd picks out two passages, one the cleaned up version, the other from the unexpurgated text and the difference is striking in terms of the sense of reality.

This book has been regarded as one of the best books about the first world war, and I cannot disagree with that.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid insight into the real life of a soldier, 15 Dec 2014
Frederic Manning is an oddly elusive figure. Born in Australia in 1882, he migrated to England as a teenager. A friend, at various times, of Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and T. E. Lawrence, he was regarded by many contemporaries as a fine writer, and his literary ambition was considerable. But he was affected throughout his life by a weak chest. Also, he drank. In the end he was really only ever known for one book, and little else that he wrote is much read today.

That one masterwork was published in 1929 under the title The Middle Parts of Fortune; soon afterwards, an expurgated version was brought out as Her Privates We. Today it can be found as either. Both titles are taken from the same dialogue in Hamlet:

Guildenstern: On Fortune’s cap we are not the very button.
Hamlet: Nor the soles of her shoe?
Rosencrantz: Neither, my lord.
Hamlet: Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours?
Guildenstern: Faith, her privates we.
Hamlet: In the secret parts of fortune? O, most true; she is a strumpet.

This quote explains itself, for Her Privates We is about the ordinary serving solder, tossed about by the fortunes of war.

The book concerns Bourne, a private soldier; although not in the first person, it is written from his point of view, and we mostly see no other. It is set in the second part of 1916, after the Somme offensive. The book opens with Bourne groping along, dugout by duckboard, away from the trenches as his unit is withdrawn; it finishes with the unit’s return. In between, they are marched from one place to another behind the lines, supposedly resting. The book is thus set mostly not in the trenches, but it does begin and end there. In any case, the fact that it is mostly not set in the front line does not decrease its value, as troops spent much of their time behind the lines.

The book’s first chapters are not always easy to read. Some of the early passages are wordy and philosophical. It begins well, as Bourne and his unit withdraw from the front line, but then runs into the sand as Bourne, awake while his fellows sleep, smokes and ruminates on the nature of their presence there. It doesn’t add much. If the whole of the book were like this, it would be a self-indulgent bore.

But it’s well worth persisting because, after that awkward beginning, it becomes a vivid portrayal of a soldier’s life. The book has a number of insights for modern readers curious about the war, including the attitudes of the solders themselves to it. A century on, we have a picture of wildly patriotic young men flooding to the colours, but reading Bourne, one wonders whether this was the whole truth. Almost nowhere in Her Privates We does anyone express support for the war; they just accept it as a fact. They are angry with a deserter, because he left them to fight without him; but his betrayal of the Crown concerns them little. More important are the commonplace stupidities of authority. A major training exercise, planned to perfection, is brought to a halt by the fury of a peasant woman because the troops are trampling her clover, and she will have no feed for the winter. On another occasion the unit is sent up the line as a work detail, but because someone has recorded their fighting strength as their pay strength, everyone must go, including the cooks, and there is nothing to eat in the morning. War and authority are quite random:

“There’s a man dead outside, sergeant,” he said, dully.
“Are you sure he’s dead?”
“Yes, sergeant; most of the head’s gone.”

The book is packed with petty incident in the life of a soldier. The men pick the lice off their bellies, avoid guard duty, and try to have “a bon time” at estaminets where the beer is poor. There is detail here that never made the history books. Planes communicate with troops on the ground using klaxons. When the weather turns cold the men are issues with fleece-lined leather jerkins and, as a result, the lice multiply. As Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia: “In war all soldieries are lousy, at the least when it is warm enough. The men that fought at Verdun, at Waterloo, at Flodden, at Senlac, at Thermopylae – every one of them had lice crawling over his testicles.”

The narrative is punctuated with darker events. The deserter is returned, perhaps to be shot; a popular officer dies on a work detail; a pointless parade leads to the death of several men when it is shelled. There is also an underlying, ugly, theme: class. In Her Privates We, the soldiers are reminded constantly that they are inferior. Bourne’s boot is split at the heel by a cart he is towing, and he is lucky to be issued with boots that are of a higher grade, being for officers. In the estaminets, the best booze is labelled “For Officers Only”. Towards the end of the book, Bourne and his fellows come across a Forces canteen with “hams, cheeses, bottled fruits, olives, sardines, everything to make the place a vision of paradise for hungry men.” Entering, he is refused service by a man who “turned away superciliously, saying that they only served officers.” Another attendant is friendlier and tells him he can get cocoa and biscuits at a shed in the yard. Bourne is incensed, knowing that the goods in the shop have been paid for by public subscription and were intended for them all.

But the class distinctions have more subtle dangers. Bourne is pressed to apply for a commission, because it is obvious that he is not from the same background as the others. Reluctantly, he does so. Meanwhile, in the trenches, thinking he has seen a sniper, he reports to an officer. The meeting is a tense one, for they are of different rank but the same class, and the officer therefore treats him coldly. Anyone brought up in the multi-layered jungle of the British class system will recognise this; someone who appears to have “slipped”, or to be playing an unexpected role, is treated with suspicion – the officer is not quite sure what to make of him, and responds with dislike. The tension between them ends with Bourne being sent on the patrol that ends the book. Yet at the same time, Bourne’s descriptions of the soldiers he serves with suggest that he himself had a wide, and class-free, sympathy with one’s fellows; his immediate companions include an urban Jewish soldier and a rural gamekeeper’s son, and the narrator appears at ease with, and attached to, both.

How much of this account reflects Manning’s real experience? One suspects, quite a lot. Bourne, the lead character, is a little different from the others; he is better educated, there is a hint that he is not 100% English (as mentioned above, he was born in Australia – though this distinction would not have been so important then). He is also under pressure to try for a commission, having turned one down on enlistment. Also, the period in which the book is set seems to cover the last few months of 1916, after the worst of the Somme offensive.

This does match Manning’s own life – up to a point. Already 32 in 1914 and in poorish health, he made several attempts to enlist before finally being accepted as a footsoldier in the King’s Shropshire Regiment. In Her Privates We, Bourne maintains to a superior that he turned down a commission on enlisting as he felt he did not know enough of men to command them. In real life, Manning, an aesthete, may indeed not have known enough of working men to have led them. However, he did not turn down a commission. John Francis Swain, who included a concise and informative biography of Manning in a 2001 doctoral thesis, reports that he was accepted for one – but was caught drunk during officer training, and was returned to his regiment as a private. He joined it on the Somme in August 1916. He had missed the bloody start to the battle but he did fight. At the end of 1916 he was again sent for officer training and this time was commissioned, into the Royal Irish Regiment. His time in France therefore corresponds to the book. Her Privates We is based, then, on just three or four months in France.

Frederic Manning never returned to the field. As John Francis Swain records, he did not settle to life as an officer, and took again to drink. Early in 1918, he was allowed to resign his commission on health grounds. Although he did try to pick up the threads of his life after the war, he never really recovered from his chest problems, and died in 1935 at the age of just 52. For all his ambitions and distinguished literary friendships, he would quite likely have left us little had it not been for his brief, undistinguished part in the war. But because of that, he has left us with a book that probably tells us as much about the real life of the soldier on the Western Front as any book ever written.
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5.0 out of 5 stars FINE, NOBLE AND TRUE, 3 Dec 2014
By 
T. F. Wells "Skink" (Chislehurst Kent UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Frederic Manning was a professional poet most of his life and a volunteer soldier in His Majesty’s infantry from October 1915 to February 1918. In 1928, a literary colleague, citing the large public appetite for books about the Great War, urged him to write a novel about his wartime experience. The result was Her Privates We, a title (and the best pun I can remember) taken from dialogue in Hamlet that is the book’s epigram:

Guildenstern: On Fortune's cap we are not the very button.
Hamlet: Nor the soles of her shoe?
Rosencrantz: Neither, my lord.
Hamlet: Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours?
Guildenstern: Faith, her privates we.
Hamlet: In the secret parts of Fortune? O, most true; she is a strumpet.

Each chapter then begins with a passage from Shakespeare, not the pithy aphorisms found in Bartlett’s Book of Quotations but obscure lines with difficult syntax that force the reader to study each word and still wonder at the precise meaning. The passages form perfect companion pieces to a literate memoir that describes war with lyrical dispassion. There is no plot, only an unfolding of events. There is abundant absurdity, but it is the opposite of funny. Death is not the least bit heroic, and there is no glory.

Reading this book is often a slog, just like the war it describes. The narration can be pedestrian for pages on end, but then Manning will produce something that zeroes in on what makes the soldier’s life unique. Two examples stand out for me. The first appears midway through the book when the main character Bourne is home on leave and is asked if he has a friend among the men. He replies, “In some ways, good comradeship takes the place of friendship. It is different; it has its own loyalties and affections; and I am not so sure that it does not rise on occasion to an intensity of feeling which friendship never touches. It may be less in itself, I don’t know, but its opportunity is greater. Friendship implies rather more stable conditions, don’t you think? You have time to choose.” The second appears in the prefatory remarks that Manning wrote after he had finished the novel and should be inscribed on every war memorial everywhere. “War is waged by men; not by beasts or by gods. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss half its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime.”

Perhaps the biggest revelation of Her Privates We, though, is the dialogue. Soldiers in 1914 sound just like men in 2014. They make liberal use of the F-word, the C-word and slang that is still alive. There is a school of literature that says an author should never attempt accented vernacular, but Manning has done it in a way that, if not exactly accurate, pinpoints his characters by class, region and temperament.

Frederic Manning’s lone novel received an initial printing of 500 copies and was credited to “Private 19022.” Manning was not identified as the author until a second printing in 1943, eight years after his death from a respiratory ailment when he was just 52. The novel garnered high praise from Ezra Pound, T.E. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway, all of whom, it is presumed, read the first printing. Hemingway called it 'The finest and noblest book of men in war.' Make that finest, noblest and truest.
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4.0 out of 5 stars He Was There, 3 Aug 2014
Bourne is a private in the 1916 battles of the Somme. He’s resigned or mildly depressed, thoughtful, educated (he speaks French and can type), and disillusioned without being outwardly cynical. The novel begins with a battle, then follows Bourne and his closest friends Shem and Martlow through a period of recuperation during which they try to amuse themselves in estaminets, and plan how to get treat themselves (they seem to live on tea, rum and bully beef) and talk a lot about the officers and other soldiers, and occasionally about bigger subjects. They are never out of danger - some are bombed from the air while queuing for food. They suffer petty annoyances: the best wine is labelled ‘reserved for the officers’; and they are never told where they’re going or what’s going to happen next. They hate the Hun, but aren’t clear what they’re fighting for. They sense the unfairness of things but are disdainful of the deserter. Then they return to the front line for yet another miserably misconceived offensive, during which...

Because it’s written in such a documentary way – like an adapted diary - lots of it is quite dull, but I didn’t mind because it really felt like having a close, detailed picture of what Western-front WWI was like. And there are some awesome scenes near the end where they’re waiting beneath the artillery barrage to go into battle, and the final attack itself.
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