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A Broken World Remembered
on 5 July 2014
This is a moving, evocative anthology of writings on the First World War by the men and women who experienced it, from the trenches to the Home Front and across the division of Europe. The editors have gathered extracts from sources as varied as the classic `Seven Pillars of Wisdom' by T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and a soldier's Field Service postcard home, bearing only the single word: "Peace".
The majority of the contributors are British but we also share the experiences of people from France, India, Canada, Australia, Russia, the United States and Germany. Some are famous writers, some became famous in other fields, but for me many of the most powerful sections were written by the "ordinary" people who sent their memories to archives, to government surveys, to their families at home.
Most British readers will find the history of their own families reflected somewhere in the shared experiences recorded in these pages. Near the end of the book is a list of all the "Thankful Villages" in England from where every man who went to fight came safely home; there are just twenty-three.
The experiences of and views on the war are as varied as the contributors: a conscientious objector morally strengthened by imprisonment; a German fighter pilot recounting dogfights over France; a young Captain living among the dead on the Somme; an officer who, while wounded, leads his men to attack the German trenches and is later modest and surprised at receiving the Victoria Cross.
The courts-martial and executions of so-called `deserters', caring nurses in field hospitals, soldiers enduring days under fire, the terrible aftermath of battle - these are topics familiar from any history of the war but in these collected memories each is a potent, individual record.
Far from being `the war to end all war' there are the signs, obvious with hindsight, that this war served as a template for the next: aerial bombing of cities, forced labour and `deportations' of women in German-occupied France, the brutal, systematic mistreatment of British POWs in Germany and captured Russians treated appallingly as slave workers.
`A Broken World' is at different moments shocking, inspiring, poignant and always interesting; varied and rich in personal details and insights.