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on 1 May 2004
Is nothing short of a masterpiece - it will be viewed as the last word on the experience of the British soldier in the Great War by one of the first rank of military historians.
Richard Holmes had a hard act to follow - he has dominated popular military history on television ever since his 'War Walks' TV series in the 1990s. More recently, he achieved best seller status with a brisk, populist but highly readable biography of Wellington. This followed closely a deserved triumph for his volume 'Redcoat', detailing the ordinary soldier in the age of the musket.
Well, this new volume carries on the story of 'Tommy Atkins' who Holmes so touchingly personifies in the opening chapters of 'Redcoat' and 'Tommy'. This is the story of the greatest army the United Kingdom has ever placed in the field - by 1918 over 5 ½ million men were serving in the British Army, and Holmes takes as his subject their motivations, their hardships, their resilience, their morale, and their enduring sacrifice.
If you know Denis Winter's book 'Death's Men', then you have some idea of the content, but Holmes goes so much further than Winter. He narrates the entire story of the Army in the Great War, drawing on the expertise shown in his series and book 'The Western Front' by giving an efficient digest of battles and actions, before moving on to giving the men of the Great War their own voices, by drawing on a huge array of accounts and sources.
But this is no a 'veteran's accounts' book like Lyn Macdonald or Max Arthur. Holmes rightly leans his book closely to the values and ideologies that motivated these men at the time, rather than accounts heavily tailored by a world far more interested in the view of the war as 'futile', than the spirit that sent millions to volunteer in 1914. Holmes treads carefully through the 'revisionist' minefield, giving due credence to both sides. I feel he pins his colours to the mast by revealing the limitations of the popular view of the Great War given undue weight by the war poets, men who never intended to write history, but whose views so often stand in the place of more revealing historical accounts.
The Great War resonates still, and the world in many ways lives in its shadow. How many families were touched by dread hand of the Great War? This is obviously a book which takes a very British perspective, but I feel there is a classic in the making here. Holmes' account deserves to endure, as his outstanding scholarship and crisp, witty humanistic prose pays a loving tribute to the thousands of men who survive still as polished medals, neatly folded letters, faded photographs and names on innumerable war memorials.
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on 25 May 2004
Richard Holmes is by far our most famous and readable contemporary military historian. The strength of his writing is not so much his grasp of strategy and tactics as his understanding of the soldier. Holmes understands what makes the fighting man - and especially the British fighting man - tick. He knows all about the recruitment, training, equipment, doctrine, leadership, organisation of the Army through the ages. He understands the character of officers, NCOs, and most of all of the enlisted men - the Tommies of whom he writes in this account of the fighting man's experience in the trench warfare of the Great War.
"Tommy" is a long book, but Holmes is, as ever, impeccably readable. Rather than presenting a history of the Great War, he describes different aspects of the military experience through a dense web of reminiscences, official documents, and academic research. The structure of the book is somewhat reminiscent of Holmes' earlier "Redcoat", although the historical focus is much tighter.
As the veterans of the Great War diminish in numbers there is a very real need for a comprehensive portrait of them, of their experiences, and of their fates. I believe that this compelling and understated book commemorates the extraordinary experiences of that generation.
Unreservedly recommended.
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on 21 September 2004
Many people will already with the works of author Richard Holmes, in particular his very fine 'War walks' series on BBC Television. Tommy is fantastically researched and provides an insight into the daily routine and ultimately horror that became a reality for the British soldier serving on the western front.
Ninety years after the outbreak of the Great war, this book and its material is a must for all historians and not just for war buffs. Over fifty black and white prints show some shocking and unusual views of the many battles.
The book itself is structured around many interesting personal accounts of the war with some incredible annecdotes providing light relief.
The names of the men mentioned throughout the book show the multi national makeup of the British lines at the time and will be of historical and human interest to all.
A great read and very useful refference source.
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This isn't a history of the First World War. It doesn't explore battles and origins, major combatants, motivations, rations, bombs. What it does do is explore the experience of the British soldiers in the trenches - who they were, why they fought, how they felt, what they did. It's broken down into thematic sections - about battalions, about weapons, about motivations for and against fighting, about relationships between ranks, about lives pre- and post-war. It's a very well-written book, with a natural feeling for the soldiers that really flows through the pages. Rather than using material that was often written well after the war and coloured by the bitterness of the peace that followed, Holmes used contemporary material, written by the men while they were there, and it really makes you realise that our view of the war as a useless, wasteful mess is a much later view, that the men in the trenches knew why they were there and what they were fighting for. At the time they would have been offended and insulted by the notion that they were 'lambs to the slaughter', mindlessly following orders into a war that had no meaning.
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on 11 February 2005
A quite astonishing compendium of the man in the trench, his background, direction and the minutiae of his experience. There were times when I suspected that Holmes was slapping down all he knew, and even some repetition, but it was a thoroughly informative and profoundly moving experience to be so immersed in the subject and to have a number of well worn preconceptions effectively subverted. Fascinating pictures: small but plentiful.
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on 23 December 2011
An excellent book but i would urge anyone who has a printed copy to keep it. Yet again Amazon and the publishers fail to notify potential kindle readers that this book has no plates/illustrations as in the print edition, this is not only easily solved but is I think a slap in the face to those people who download the book in good faith. It is in others words an incomplete book and customers should be alerted as it is misleading to sell it in its current form. Come on Amazon get it right.
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on 23 March 2005
This book could be purchased purely for the intelligence of the introduction alone. The arguement produced about the effects of time and social view upon the perception of the war by combatants and historians is excellent, as well providing a useful list of other sources to obtain. As in the opening section of 'Redcoat', the scene is set through a descriptive passage in which the observations of situation and character are highly evocative without losing sight of hard fact. The book is to be commended for identifying when it is hypothesising or using primary source to suggest reasons for an individual's actions. All this and well written too!
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on 27 November 2007
This book covers all you will every want or need to know about the British Soldier in the first World War. In the modern trend it is factual and balanced. It re-writes some of the preceived wisdom. For example following this book my opinions of the generals in the conflict were changed for the better (Holmes gives good reasons to think they were better than they are usually given credit for). In addition, my understanding of the motivation and commitment of the soldier was also improved. Holmes also makes the case (possibly well know now) that it was only in the late 20s and early 30s that disillusionment set in. At the time most soldiers were very commited and believed in the war as a just cause.

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!
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on 1 July 2010
This must be one the best books about the First World War . Mr Holmes tells what it was like to be a soldier in the British Army during this period ,from the lowest private to the highest general . He does go into detail about how units are structured and how orders are communicated and enforced . Also what day to day life was like and how they where taught to use their equipment .
He gives plenty of first hand accounts to add gravitas and although some do help you understand the shear hell , he does interdisperse this with lightheaarted ones .
It would help the reader if you have a basic understanding of the Western Front , I would read J Keegan's Excellent The First World War first .
I finished the book over a couple of days and feal that i have a much better understanding of the British soldier in this period .
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on 16 June 2005
I am a keen reader of WW1 accounts from the western front, so when Tommy was published and heavily promoted on the History channel I made no hesitation in rushing to making a purchase.
It is a weighty tome and I took great delight in delving in and out of it throughout the course of a month. But my feedback has to be mixed. I think the book is trying to cover too many angles, many of which are very enjoyable to read, and interspersed with wonderful first hand accounts, but there are whole chapters that proved tiresome to struggle through. I guess it is unavoidable but you get the mandatory pages devoted to describing different regiments that all blur into one after a while, but for some this may be of interest.
But battle through some of the less interesting chapters and the book is an enjoyable and rewarding read. I found the more interesting chapters appeared toward the end of the book, so dont give up on it.
I would also not recommend it to anyone that doesnt already understand the conflict as their is very little peripheral information to put Tommy life into the context of the war. The origins of the war are briefly skirted over in an early chapter, but without my existing knowledge of the war I would probably be left very curious about the bigger picture.
So if you are a WW1 'newbie' then I would recommend getting the full picture of the conflict first, possibly by watching 'The Great War' 1950s series (available on DVD box set)or reading Dorling Kindersley's - First World War by H.P Wilmott.
In terms of content, there is everything you could possibly ever want to know about the WW1 Tommy: trench life, singing, language, moustaches and food to name but a few. As a WW1 interesting read this now rates second in my collection after Max Arthurs wonderful 'Voices from the Western Front'.
So in summary, if you are a follower of WW1 this is a must for your collection, and stick with it for an informative and enjoying read.
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