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This review is from: Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front (Paperback)
In this massive (over 700 pages) and unique book the late Richard Holmes gives us a picture of the British soldier on the Western Front. The army, its' structure, the substancial differences between Regular, Territorial and New Army units, officers and social class, plus all sorts of aspects of life for the common soldier including mud, rats, VD, religion, facial-hair, lice, food, alcohol, homosexuality, punishments... you name it!
The First World War is perhaps the most written-about war of all time, with every day and detail picked-over; without ranting at us Holmes gently goes about debunking some of the myths and half-truths that so many of us used to hold about the war including the intelligence or otherwise of generals, the casualties caused by gas, shell-shock, the use of capital punishment, and so forth. In particular I was amazed at the high casualty rate amongst the senior officers and generals.
And Holmes wears his scholarship lightly - despite the fact that he was a professor of Military History at Cranfield and the College of Military Science and was one of the foremost experts on the British soldier in the last 200 years, we never feel patronised, and the book is thoroughly readable. I am currently ploughing through it for the fourth time as I seek to discover what my two grandfathers (a Captain and a Private, both in the infantry on the Western Front) experienced.
In my opinion this is a book that everyone with an interest in the Great War must read.