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Customer Review

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent introduction to the material culture of World War One, 25 May 2008
This review is from: The British Soldier of the First World War (Shire Library) (Paperback)
For a small book this carries a surprising breadth and wealth of information. Doyle uses a framework of chronology to organise his survey of the material culture of World War One, which examines the tools, weapons, uniforms and insignia of the soldier, some of the forms, documents, postcards, posters, and goes on to include photographs, personal items, medals and examples of trench art.

The book aims to help people interpret "fragments of memory", but manages to go beyond this, to give a concentrated view of the way British people, soldiers, families and the War Office, produced a material culture that continues to communicate some of the experience of the First World War. The book begins with a well-known silhouette photograph of Tommies moving up to the Front. In attempting to "resolve those silhouettes into an image of a fighting soldier at war" the book also contextualises the soldier within the attitudes and activities of a country supporting its soldiers while not fully comprehending their often uncommunicable experience.

As well as using postcards and cartoons to show some of the ways that soldiers managed to deal with their condition, the book also points out some of the ways in which the soldiers were let down, by some aspects of their uniforms and equipment, and particularly by the treatment they received after the war. For many the heroes' welcome received from family and friends was matched officially by a set of uninspiring medals and little prospect of employment.

The book uses photographs of soldiers in and out of combat in a variety of hues - colour, monochrome, sepia and hand-coloured - in a proportion that fairly reflects the ratio of time spent in combat to that spent in preparation, rest or the soldier's attempts to make sense of his situation through humour, sentimentality, creativity or the assertion of individuality. Doyle writes concisely, conveying a vast amount of information clearly, in a book that functions as introduction, reference work and celebration.
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Location: London

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