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on 22 August 2011
Ashworth's book looks at the times in trench warfare when there was not a battle on as such. These periods made up the largest part of the life of most soldiers. As the war went on, the efforts of the military hierarchy to oblige soldiers to be permanently aggressive against the enemy in the trenches opposite became more and more systematic, and the efforts of soldiers to avoid war, or sometimes refuse war, became more sophisticated.

Ashworth gives many examples but a few will do. Night raiding was a tactic which soldiers often avoided, because it upset the "live and let live" agreement which tacitly reigned in many trenches outside the "elite" regiments. Until the end of 1915 the initiative for night raiding was left to local leadership - after 1916 it was centralized. Batallions had to do "their quota" of night raids. In some cases the superior officers even demanded that they bring back samples of German barbed wire to prove the raid had been carried out. The cleverer soldiers hid a roll of German barbed wire so that samples could be readily available.

A second example is mining - digging tunnels under the enemy in order to blow them sky high. Again this was a danger to the live and let live atmosphere, and once more the military hierarchy centralized decisions on mining in 1916, since local leadership could not be trusted to be "aggressive enough".

Ashworth gives many more examples and the statistics to back them up.

All in all, Ashworth is an exceptionally good book, because it reminds us most convincingly that the interests of the Generals and those of the ordinary soldiers were *not the same* and that the soldiers employed considerable ingenuity to defend their own priorities, which generally consisted of keeping things quiet in the hope of surviving the war. Other writers have pointed out that death rates in 'elite' companies of shock troops were four times higher than in less trusted batallions, so it is clear that "live and let live" could be a smart option.
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on 23 September 2015
Interesting look at the fighting away from the big battles. The book is, however, marred by some glaring inaccuracies. Two examples:- the book claims that poison gas was first used at Ypres (by the Germans) - in fact it was used against the Russians first, they just didn't bother to tell anyone. Another error that should have been picked up by the editor or proof reader is the date of the German offensive in 1918 - the book gives April 9th whereas the correct date is March 21st. Apart from this sort of stuff, the examination of the less active parts of trench warfare is long overdue.
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on 20 March 2013
Its well researched and quotes well its sources.
Lots of touching anecdotes.
It presents a wide view and provides an understanding of the different stages of the war and the effects on those involved.
Excellent reading. It was recommended in a book on another subject (the prisoner's dilemma). I was not disappointed as I found examples of the dilemma referred to. But also a rich, human description of the trench warfare of 1914-18.
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on 1 February 2015
A very good book for anyone studying trench warfare at A-Level or above. I bought it for my degree and was able to use it to great effect. Also an interesting read if you happen to just be into this sort of thing.
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on 4 July 2002
The sub-title of this book is "The live and let live system", which led me to believe that it would provide an interesting insight into the nature of trench warfare and soldiers' existence in "quiet" periods of the war. Unfortunately that is not the case.
Mr Ashworth has written what he intends to be a scholarly study of ways in which soldiers on opposite sides of No Man's Land made life a little more peaceful for themselves by refraining from active warfare. There is very little in the way of first- or second-hand description of trench life, and instead the book concentrates on a dry, quasi-academic analysis of the live and let live phenomenon.
The style, however, is more schoolmaster than scholar and after a few chapters it becomes quite grating. The book is also far longer than is necessary (not that it is particularly long anyway - 226 pages) and I am quite sure that what he has to say could have been covered in half the space. More of a long essay than a book. To achieve this supposedly more respectable length, the author seems to have taken the old trainer's adage to heart - "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you've told them". Just to be on the safe side, he has then added "tell them again, and again".
Stripped down to essentials, the book does make one or two interesting observations. Live and let live, where it existed, was essentially maintained by way of three different mechanisms - outright truce (the most famous instance being the unofficial ceasefire at Christmas 1914), "inertia" (deliberate avoidance of aggressive activity) and ritualised aggression (only firing at one particular target, for example, and only at the same time of day, so that the persons under fire would know to avoid that area at that time). The way in which live and let live became progressively more difficult to maintain, as a direct result of Haig's decision to require regular raids on enemy positions (a decision followed by his opposite numbers in the French and German armies), is also moderately interesing, but again Mr Ashworth insists on over-egging the pudding and, by his constant repetitions, rapidly dulled what interest I had in his views.
Where Mr Ashworth does quote from original sources he seems to value some quite well-known works, several of which are known to be less than reliable. In particular, he makes frequent reference to Robert Graves' "Goodbye to All That", an excellent read in itself but notorious for being a long way from accurate in its portrayal of events. Similarly with Blunden and Remarque, whose works were intended more as impressions rather than factual descriptions of their war experiences. (But perhaps I am just sniping here, to vent a little of my frustration at this book.)
Sadly, then, this book is not to be recommended. Anybody with a passing interest in the Great War, who would like to know a little more about what life in the trenches was like, will be bored stiff. Anybody who, like me, devours just about anything they can lay their hands on about the war, will also be greatly disappointed - one or two nuggets of information, which many will have already come across in other works, are insufficient reward for the drudgery of plowing through Mr Ashworth's tedious prose.
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on 13 September 2011
I can confirm the judgment of the other reviewer, who said the book drones on and on and repeats and bores. I had to read the book as part of my research into the causes of the 1914 Xmas truces and I was struck again and again by the writer's dreary style. So much so that I found myself ruing the day I ever asked my mentor for help with bibliography on the subject.

However, where the other reviewer would say that the useful insights offered by the book aren't worth the length and style of the book, I would utterly disagree. In parts, it even becomes a riveting read, if only by merit of the information to be found in it.

If the subject of truces and live and let live interests you, this is the book to read. Simple as that.

Does its style require patiance? Yep. Definitely.

Is it worth it? Well... yes. Yes it is.
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on 1 December 2010
Unlike the other reviewer, I found the book fascinating - as did others I passed it on to.

As far as I can see, this was an excellent example of collusion which Schelling describes, in detail, in 'The Strategy of Conflict'. In MoD in the '70s, there were frequent reports of troops in Vietnam - on both sides - deliberately avoiding conflict, in spite of orders to do otherwise.
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on 1 September 2014
Super quick delivery. Thank you would use again!
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on 28 September 2014
amazing book!
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