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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 24 November 2002
This is a remarkable work. Max Arthur has distilled hundreds of hours of interviews into small pieces which he then assembles in to a patchwork gradually forming a picture of the Great War. No knowledge of the details of the war are needed; this is a view from ordinary people from all sides, including women of the Land Army and medical staff.
The voices are of their time which adds to the sense of authority. These men are confused, weighed down, horrified, but they keep their feelings very much to themselves, if indeed they actually allow themselves the luxury of feeling. It describes a world of chaos, mud and endless discomfort, poor sleep, infection and yet this becomes their home, somehow preferable to being back in England. Their are tales of heroism, but none of the voices see themselves as heroes.
This book is in the great tradition of oral history, and has now been written so future generations can gain a glimpse through the words of those who were there.
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on 27 November 2002
This is a unique book. It is an oral history of the First World War, the stories of many people, soldiers, women of the Land Army, soldiers from all sides of the conflict. Max Arthur has skilfully woven a patchwork, distilling hundreds of hours of tapes of interviews with the survivors, reassembling them into a book that slowly unfolds the story of the war in their words. It is not about great people or great moments although there are many of these. It is about the day by day horror of the unfolding drama and their survival.
The voices speak with a different tone, almost unrecognisable today. It is one of humility, of a lack of self importance, of the greater good of the country and faith. There is in some ways a lack of depth in their descriptions as we are now so used to mining the extent of our inner experiences. Then, suddenly a comment will illuminate the ordeal and lend it terrible power.
It is extraordinary to see the dreadful conditions, the mud, infections, rats, sleeplessness, bombing and killing and maiming, slowly become habitual and even, bizarrely, preferable to being at home. One sees the same men start out strong and hopelessly optimistic and naive, slowly being ground into a new, darker personality.
This book is a treasure trove of individual experiences, now saved before the last of these men are lost forever. Max Arthur not only edited the tapes but also was able to interview some survivors himself.
It is the ideal book for primary source material and should be of importance to schools and universities. It helps remind us of what happened by listening to the last echoes of those who were there. Every library should have one.
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on 26 May 2003
I've read many, many books on the First World War. I can't remember ever reading one that moved me so much though. The voices of those who fought really comes through in this book.
This book will make you appreciate the thoughts and feelings of those who fought in World War One.
The feelings of those forced to participate in firing squads for example,is something few books have dealt with so poignantly. One of the voices tells of his disgust at witnessing a friend shot as a deserter when he had volunteered for action in the first place and had fought bravely throughout. One moment of fear and madness was enough to bring a court martial and death sentence.
The voice continues to tell how the victim's parents were never told the truth, and never got to know that an English bullet had ended their son's life. In a sick ironic twist, the devastated father's response was to join up himself as he felt he had to avenge his son's death at the hands of the Germans.
There are countless examples like this in the book-tragic episodes that would otherwise have gone to the grave with the few soldiers aware of them.
I can't imagine anyone not being able to gain some insight or degree of empathy from reading this book.
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on 8 January 2004
"Almost the last white feather I recieved": thus one of the contributers remembers two women on a bus; one of whom gave him a white feather. He had returned from the front and was sat in civies. "For a brave soldier" said the woman who handed him the feather. Cleaning his pipe with it he handed the feather back. Those who took part in this conflict came home, tongue-tied; wanting to get back to the real reality with their mates at the front. They had no words for the folks back home. The folks back home were being served with patriotic post cards and the exploits of the cross-eyed pin-up Kitchener. So many mistakes are made by the ignorant and unwitting. This book seeks to help us to understand the mistakes made by all in the propogation and sustation of this dreadful conflict. If you you are just beginning to research this subject 'The GreatWar'. This is where you you must begin your studies.
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on 3 October 2002
This book is the only oral history of the Great War that concentrates on the experiences on ordinary men and women who were doing ordinary jobs, such as working in munitions factories or on farms. It also records the experiences of low ranking soldiers; the courageous snipers, infantrymen, engineers and drivers who formed the backbone of the army. Their stories are often told in the most extraordinarily matter of fact way - they seem oblivious to how courageous their actions were. But it isn't all about courage and honour, some of the most moving accounts focus on young boys shot for desertion, for example, or the stupid women back in London who handed out white feathers to any men they saw out of uniform, assuming that they had weasled their way out of active service. Of course many of these men had simply been invalided out of the army after suffering horrible injuries, but they still felt humiliated when accosted in public. Max Arthur has found a wealth of wonderful stories in these veteran's memories, and it's marvellous to see them collected together in this fascinating book.
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on 22 December 2003
Max Arthur uses the Imperial War Musuem sound archive to great effect to enable people who lived through the time of the Great War to tell their story. In fact this is perhaps the greatest strength of an excellent book in that it captures a period in time with the authenticity only one written by people who lived through it can.
Although primarily recalled through the memories of military personnel we also hear from a cross section of non-combatants ranging from school children to conscientious objectors. Max Arthur has created a living time capsule of the first world war and the result is an enlightening book which deserves high praise and a wide readership.
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on 24 November 2002
Max Arthur’s new book covering the Great War is quite unique in that its content is nearly all first-hand accounts from people who experienced the horror of the Great War. The author has utilized a number of tape recorded interviews conducted by the Imperial War Museum in 1972. Many of the tapes from the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive had been forgotten and left unheard for years.
Now Max Arthur has put together many of these unheard voices from the Great War to produce this spellbinding and captivating book. I must admit that I was reluctant to buy this book as I was worried that a book full of short accounts would be too disjointed and really not detailed enough to satisfy my interest. I can honestly say that I truly enjoyed reading this book.
Each chapter of the book was a year of the Great War and was commenced by an introduction by the author offering a brief run down on the major events of that year. Then we heard from the men and women who participated in these events, from both sides of no-man’s land. The author has concentrated mainly on the Western Front and Gallipoli and has tried to run the oral segments in chronological order.
I was really taken by these segments and I found it hard to stop reading. The accounts from these soldiers and civilians alike were at times humorous, strikingly direct, horrifying and on many occasions quite sad. I was really taken in by these accounts and I don’t think that any World War One library would be complete without this title sitting on the shelf. I can honestly say that I learnt quite a few things from this book and I would place it along side such works offered by Lyn MacDonald. Well done to the author and the Imperial War Museum for allowing these veterans, many now long dead, the last word on their experiences in the Great War. This is a great book, you won’t be disappointed.
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on 11 January 2004
Not having much of a clue about ww1,I now know the meaning of brave.
Me and my dad read the book from start to finish straight away.
No interference from the author, just straight from the horses mouth
...a must read...
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on 24 May 2014
The only reason why I didn't give this 5 stars is because I'm unlikely to read it again, but one experience was enough and thoroughly enjoyable. At times I was near tears and had to read over some of the entries just to try and put myself in their shoes such was the horrendous circumstances that we know of the Great War. I have bought nearly the whole forgotten series and will pick one up and read it in between other historical based books. They are a brilliant addition to my collection.
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on 21 December 2005
I don't want to repeat what other reviewers have said and mostly agree with their high opinion of Max Arthur's work. Some anecdotal histories can be overdone, but this isn't one of them - it rings with authenticity. I agree with one reviewer in that the title is a little misleading: it isn't a New History of WW I but as a valuable and poignant record of experience, it is hard to beat. It is extremely moving - after I read it I lent it to my father (who served in WW II) and he was tremendously affected by it when he recalled my grandfather's recounting of his experiences in those same trenches. As those voices are now almost entirely gone, this book is a tremendous contribution to their memory - highly recommended.
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