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Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front Paperback – 7 Mar 2005
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‘Holmes is one of our foremost military scholars and a skilled writer who knows his audience well. This is excellent popular history: scholarly, highly readable and utterly absorbing.’ Daily Telegraph
‘Monumental … Every page of this is worth reading.’ Time Out
‘Where Holmes’s book comes brilliantly to life is in his use of first-hand accounts of the trench experience … It is Holmes’s achievement to make this familiar landscape come alive with the humanity of those who fought in it.’ TLS
‘Holmes has produced yet another fascinating, balanced and original book of a highly emotive subject. ‘ Sunday Telegraph
The unmissable Sunday Times bestseller now in paperback. The first history of World War I to place centre-stage the British soldier who fought in the trenches, this superb and important book tells the story of an epic and terrible war through the letters, diaries and memories of those who fought it. The First World War is embedded in the British consciousness. It summons images of bloody barbed wire and trenches deep with bodies, great aunts who never married and youthful servicemen who never grew old. Tommy tells the story of the First World War through the experiences of those who fought it. Of the 6 million men who served in the British army, nearly one million lost their lives and over 2 million were wounded. This is the story of these men - epitomised by the character of Sgt Tommy Atkins - and the women they left behind. Using previously unseen letters, diaries, memoirs and poetry from the years 1914-1918, Richard Holmes paints a moving picture of the generation that fought and died in the mud of Flanders.He follows men whose mental health was forever destroyed by shell shock, women who lost husbands and brothers in the same afternoon and those who wrote at lunchtime and died before tea. Groundbreaking and critically-acclaimed, this book tells the real story of trench warfare, the strength and fallibility of the human spirit, the individuals behind an epic event, and their legacy. It is an emotional and unforgettable masterpiece from one of our most important historians. See all Product description
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Thank heaven, though, that Holmes has no absurd political axe to grind. I've always been grateful to one of my university tutors for pointing me in the direction of Terraine's 'The Smoke And The Fire', and ground my teeth somewhat when the BBC overdid it on the Somme last year. 'Lions led by donkeys'? Absurd. But the class aspects cannot - and should not - be set aside.
I should like to read something linking the Boer War with 1914 - perhaps 'Redcoat' does this.
For example I was particularly struck by the repudiation of the 'eyewitness account' of 2nd Lt Beadle, 33rd Div artillery F.O. officer of the 'charge into High Wood' on 14th July 1916 of the Deccan Horse and 7th Dragoon Guards.
Lt Beadle's account is quoted in Lyn Macdonald's book 'Somme' and in Prior & Wilson's account of the battle. Holmes identified the elements of Beadle's account which makes it implausable and thus unreliable. It does point up the danger of inaccuracy or plain, though unwitting, fantasy of verbal accounts summoned from the memories of participants of any event. Books based on accounts 'in their own words' are suspect in this regard.
Reliable is a word you can count on with Holmes's book. As a historian, lecturer at Sandhurst, Co-Director of RMC Sciences, Shrivenham and one time most senior officer of the Territorals, one would expect Holmes to be accurate and meticulous with his facts.
In certain sections there are too may facts . Anyone not personally interested in the make-up and evolution of a particular regiment, division and battalion will find that there are lengthy passages which describe in excessive detail the permutations of British Army units.
There are also repetitions of passages, not only from his book 'Redcoats' but also from chapters earlier in this book. There are passages I have read 3 or 4 times, in 'Redcoats', 'Tommies' [perhaps twice] and 'The Western Front'
I recognise that the history of the British Army soldier is a continuum. Changes to any aspect of the Army between wars are bound to be part of any book describing those wars. Thus, a considerable amount of description of many aspects of soldiering and soldiers between the end of The Boer War and WW1 are to be found in 'Redcoats' and 'Tommy'
Having said all that, 'Tommy' is excellent. There is no aspect of soldiering that Holmes has not covered, from the activities of Army chaplains, disciplinary and legal proceedings, medical and provisioning, morale and social attitudes. It could probably have benefited from a reduction by 100 pages or so - it's a big book - but it is full of interest, written in typical Holmesian crisp, unpretentious style and restrained humour.
It contains lots of quotes from people writing at the time, which I enjoyed.
I thought it better than "Redcoat" -- it seemed to have a better structure and flow. So top marks becuase that was a good book too!
I found the time line a little difficult to follow at first but soon worked out that as each subject is covered the author was correct to format the book his way.
It is informative, emotional, educational and entertaining.
I would highly recommend it.
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