Customer Review

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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