There has been considerable debate on the internet about the title of this book which comes from a quote by Robert Graves of 2/Royal Welch Fusiliers who wrote: "A soldier who had the honour to serve with one of the better divisions....could count on no more than three months' trench service before being wounded or killed; a junior officer a mere six weeks". So he wasn't saying that six weeks was LIFE EXPECTANCY since only approx. a third of casualties were fatalities: but that this was how long an officer lasted before being a casualty of some kind. This has exercised quite a number of people, and alas has led them not to take the book as seriously as they should.
That quibble apart, this is a well-researched, well-written book, and it is amazing that The Great War, the most written-about war of all time surely, should have a huge gap that this book is able to fill: namely the role, life and (sadly mostly) death of the junior officer on the Western Front.
I came to this book whilst researching my grandfather's Great War. The son of a Glasgow shop-keeper, he volunteered to join the 5th Scottish Rifles in Oct 1914 as a Private, and was commissioned into the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers in Jan 1916 as a 2nd Lieutenant, ending the war as a Captain. Wounded three times (a bullet through the arm at St Eloi, buried-alive by a howitzer-shell but dug up badly bruised and shell-shocked on the Somme, badly gassed and temporarily blinded 10 days before the end of the war) he later became a doctor, and died aged 92.
The junior British infantry officer suffered higher casualties than virtually any other class of soldier in any army during WW1, and this book has given me a unique insight into the day-to-day duties and life of unimportant junior officers such as my grandfather, who has consequently greatly risen in my estimation: I highly recommend it.
It has been fashionable for some time to misuse the quotation 'Lions led by Donkeys' (possibly from the Crimean War and used by the late Alan Clark for the title of his book 'Donkeys'). It was originally a criticism of the High Command, especially in the Great War. It was never intended to apply to the junior officer in the trenches but is all too frequently so used nowadays.
This book is a marvellous, and desperately tragic, account of the spirit, gallantry and also the depth of the thousands of officers who fought, and so often perished, in that most terrible of wars. It is a most timely reminder of the truth about a generation of men whose loss left the country bereft of its very best. We still feel the lack of such men and their qualities.
This book should be read by anyone with an interest in the way the twentieth century unrolled.
An excellent history drawing on primary and secondary sources describing the lot of the junior officer in the Great War from joining up through training, first contact and wounding/death. The author can be forgiven the odd misty eyed passage about the great public schools, but it is clear that these schools bore the heaviest casualties throughout the war and provided many fine officers.
Schools teach of the futility of the Great War, lions led by donkeys and class struggle. This book addresses these fallacies with aplomb.
On second reading, I'm still in awe of this book. 'Six Weeks' is a brilliant piece of wide-ranging research, beautifully organised and written, which traces the life of a typical front-line officer in the First World War from school and university, through volunteering and training to front line service and the alternate pathways of death or survival. Every detail imaginable is covered: uniform and weapons, means of transport, leave, medical treatment, the growing contribution of the 'Temporary Gentlemen', the cost of survival.... On a basis of solid factual information, the author uses the words and experiences of many young officers to build the picture and he pays his subjects the compliment of listening to them and presenting the war as they knew it, not as later generations have imagined it to have been.
A book on this subject was long overdue. It's hard to imagine that anyone could have done it better.
"Six Weeks" is sub-titled "the Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War". It's a detailed, compelling and fascinating account of the Great War from the perspective of the British junior officer - the first and second lieutenants and captains on the Western Front. There are many books focusing on the lives of British soldiers in the War, often from the perspective of the British Tommy. But this is the officers' story. It is a book about (to paraphrase another famous title) "the war the officers knew".
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It's comprehensive, following the service history of officers from school, through training, to the trenches, and into battle. The journey traces the time after combat, looking at "rest and leave" hospitalization and (all too often) death.
It is a book which is rich with period details. Some of these are from a world which has passed up by - the world of the personal servant and of utterly rigorous class divisions. Other period details are infinitely personal, including the letters written by the officers to their wives and children. There are first-hand quotations from a wide variety of sources (including letters and diaries). The photographs are of excellent quality, most of which I had not seen before. Certain sections of the book are unremittingly grim, although parts are light hearted and amusing.
In all, "Six Weeks" is an excellent read which I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in the Great War, and anyone interested in any war from the perspective of a junior officer.