Goodbye to a lost world,
This review is from: Goodbye to All That (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Robert Graves served as a front line officer on the western front during some of the heaviest fighting of 1915 and 1916. In 1929, he turned his extensive experience of trench life into the centrepiece of an autobiography called 'Goodbye to All That'. Graves begins the book by describing his family background. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, Graves is from an anglo German family; he had several relatives fighting on the other side and I think this fact colours much of his attitude to the war. Secondly, Graves attended a prestigious public school -Charterhouse- which meant that he could enlist as an officer and rather like George Orwell he seems to have been class conscious from an early age.
Graves was a very brave soldier who led from the front. He was almost fatally wounded at the Somme in July 1916. But it is not only his own experiences that he is keen to chronicle. Graves describes the men of his Royal Welch Regiment vividly. The book is full of the exploits of serving men, such as Lance Corporal Baxter, who attempts a successful rescue of a wounded man from no mans' land; another man is given field punishment number one and Graves agonises over his involvement in the court marshalling of an Irish soldier who cast away arms. Graves' attitudes towards the war seem to be extremely nuanced: he is proud of his ancient regiments' battle honours and he shows no obvious compunction about soldiering and yet he also admires his friend Sigfried Sassoon's principled stand against war.
Graves describes at least one bungled attack (pg 128) when the men of the Middlesex Regiment are simply mowed down and he is frank enough to report on such controversial matters as the killing of POWs and the execution of conscientious objectors. At one point in the book the reader is pulled up sharp when Graves reminds us that he is still, in spite of all of his battlefield experience, only 20 years old! Happily Graves survived the war and by the end of the book he is well on his way to being a successful writer with an unconventional private life (by the standards of the day). The events described in this book are nearly 100 years old now but they remain deeply shocking.