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The Quick and the Dead: Fallen Soldiers and Their Families in the Great War Paperback – 7 Jun 2012
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Superb ... Shattering for its wealth of tiny heartbreaking truths (Daily Telegraph)
Incredibly moving ... Remarkable (Daily Express)
A moving account of the emotional, physical and financial hardships suffered by the families of the fallen. It provides a poignant memorial to what one relative called the "heart hunger" caused by the loss of a loved one in battle (Sunday Times)
An engrossing insight into the human cost through the memories of some of the last of those children (Glasgow Herald)
There have been many books on the soldiers who fought and died in the First World War - The Quick and the Dead is the first history of the wives and children who were left behind.See all Product description
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I had a Kindle version of this book with me to read on a battlefield trip to the Somme, but didn't get around to reading it until I returned and it was probably not the best time to read it as I was feeling very emotional about the whole trip and what I'd learned and experienced there.
This is really an excellent book about an aspect of the war that has interested me for a while and that is the effect the war had on those left behind. I can see why the 'pebble in the pond' effect of this terrible period in time has rippled down through the years and had an impact on subsequent generations, including family members of mine. Richard Van Emden writes from the heart and always seems to have a deep empathy for those affected by the war. This is apparent in other books he's written.
I really thought I wouldn't be able to get past the part about Lily Baron, the ninety-eight year old lady visiting her father's grave at Bourlon Wood. 'He had been killed during the Battle of Cambrai back in November 1917 when she was just five years old. She left a little note on his grave, "Thank-you for five years of real happiness - I've missed you all my life' That really affected me, as did other accounts and had to stop reading for a time.
The book contains a lot of previously unpublished source material from letters and diaries. There is a chapter on The Missing and how so many were lost and remain so today and the heart-rending and fruitless search by family members for the loved ones who never came home.
It's easy to forget while researching individual service personnel that for every name, rank and number there were family members back home who suffered terribly because of their loss and not only emotionally but financially too. This bit sums it up for me, written by Private Stephen Graham '...For dying was not the hardest thing; the hardest thing was plunging one's home into sorrow.'
Like all of van Emden's books, it draws heavily on primary sources and survivor testimony, which, to my mind at least, makes the narrative that much more personal and moving. Reading the words of soldiers' letters home or the memoirs of grieving fathers or the recollections of men and women who scarcely knew the fathers who never came home, makes the soldiers featured here real people, rather than the amorphous grey mass of soldiery that feature in so many histories of WW1.
Unlike WW2, where the Home Front really was a Front in the war and there were no lines to shelter behind, civilians in WW1 were to a large extent cushioned from the horror of Belgium and France; which is not to say that these fathers and mothers and wives and children were not suffering too, in their own way. Van Emden infuses these accounts with real dignity and pathos, highlighting that neither soldiers nor their families could really comprehend the experiences the other went though in wartime, but the pain felt was no less real, and no less lifelong, for that.
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I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the aftermath of the Great War on those who lost loved ones to it.