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on 30 September 2012
Amongst the dozens of WW1 memoirs written by junior infantry officers, this one stands out as being particularly well-written. Max Plowman, who originally wrote the book under the name of "Mark Seven" gives us atmospheric episodes from his six months on the Western Front, and it rings completely true in every respect. My grandfather too was a junior officer on the Somme, and his reminiscences, told to me as a teenager, are in total accord with this fine book.

I read this book in a couple of days, and almost at once became dismayed at how fast it was going by and how near I was to the end. I am about to read it a second time: it is that sort of book.
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on 6 January 2014
Max Plowman gives an erudite and sensitive appreciation of his time as a junior officer in the Great War.

Plowman himself is capable and brave, well-respected by his men and fellow officers. He is acutely aware of how character determines a man's response to the demands of war in the front line, in both officers and men. Character portrayal is a strength of the book.

Top Brass is seen as falling short too often: "...the colonel himself ...never managed (though to give him his due he tried very hard) to reach the trenches". And " At Beauquesne we passed some large country houses that are said to be in use as army headquarters. One could not help admiring the command's taste". Also "For the higher command the war is a great adventure and into it they can and do put tremendous zeal and endless thought. At the same time they have all the excitement of a bigger game than any other"

He is also concerned about the mechanisation of war. "We have endowed machinery with the power once confined to a man's right arm, and now the machine continues to function long after our natural instincts have spent themselves. That is what makes this war so ghastly. It is machine-made."

Plowman became increasingly disillusioned with the conflict. If only the British public knew what was going on, he thought: "...in the words of our battle-hymn, 'They'd never believe it'"

Following recuperation in England from a bomb blast he wrote to his battalion adjutant asking to be relieved of his commission on the grounds of religious conscientious objection to all war. What is not in the book is that he was arrested and tried by court martial for refusing to return to his unit. He was dismissed from the army without punishment.
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on 15 August 2013
A powerful and emotional account by a soldier during of one of the most dreadful events in our history. The memoir is engaging and vivid, offering a raw and real look into World War I by a very talented and classical writer. Max Plowman was a very admirable man and I have much respect for not only his abilities as an author, but also his endurance through a time that is almost unimaginable these days. I found every chapter to be just as captivating as the other and with the visually rich, detailed writing painting a picture through each chapter in the mind, it ended up leaving a lasting impression on me that proved hard to fade.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an unadulterated and raw look into the events that occurred on the Western Front through an intelligent author's perspective.
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VINE VOICEon 21 November 2016
For most people, the Battle of the Somme is just 1 July 1916, a day when infamously nearly 20,000 British soldiers were killed and tends of thousands more wounded. In fact the Battle was a four month business, and the author of this work was a junior officer in the West Yorkshire regiment posted there shortly after that appalling first day, and serving there over the following months. He writes very fluently and with erudition of his experiences as the months roll by, until he is wounded by a shell and invalided back to Blighty in January 1917. The Western Front tropes of shells, mud, lice and trench foot are all here, but also some less obvious killers: the uncertainty of surviving from one moment to the next during an attack - "To be deprived of reasonable expectation - even of the next moment - is the real strain. I had not thought of that. Certainty, even of violent death, would often come as a relief. It is the perpetual uncertainty that makes life in the trenches endurance all the time"; and the intense desire for a measure of control over one's fate: "I understand desertion. A man distraught determines that the last act of his life shall at least be one of his own volition; and who can say that what is commonly regarded as the limit of cowardice is not then heroic?", or when, during a brief period away from the Front Line in Amiens while on a training course, he writes: "Best of all is the relief from life by order. To be one's own master, just for an hour or two, is to me relaxation beyond belief".

I read elsewhere (on Wikipedia) that, after refusing to return to his unit later on in the war, the author was court martialled. His experiences led him to becoming a pacifist and he founded the Peace Pledge Union twenty years later.
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on 12 January 2014
Very good book it was good to get another view of a horrific war what those men went through is unbelievable and the mistakes the senior officers made was disgraceful. Well worth a read
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on 4 January 2014
One of the few officers who made it through WW1, this is a very human and moving account of the best and the worst of life on the front. Well written, full of action, polite (except perhaps to certain staff officers) this is a book that really deserves reading by the millions of people today who lost relatives in the trenches of the Great War.
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on 29 December 2013
An interesting and illuminating book about the day to day life in the trenches. Whilst there is no "over the top" action, the trials suffered by the troops in the mud of the trenches are no less demanding and life threatening than the bullets and shells of the enemy. Could people today endure what was endured?, I think not.
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on 17 January 2014
I read this as a follow-up to Margaret McMillan's 700 pages The war that ended the peace. Together they give some understanding of the causes of WW I and the misery of those common soldiers who fought in it.
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on 19 November 2016
The narrative's early prose tends towards Edwardian pomposity, but, once the author stops trying too hard, the account the reader is treated to an honest account with excellent insights into the daily life of the Tommy. I am sure I would never have coped with the bombardments and risk of instant, random death or mutilation! And the mud....
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on 5 July 2016
A self-effacing memoire which speaks frankly about life in the trenches of the Somme once the initial push had failed and after so many were killed in the first few days.
It is clear that the men were poorly equipped at times, the battle got away from the generals and the stalemate was complete.
I liked the human thought that away from the guns pounding positions with impersonal fallout. But if the guns fell silent the troops would lose the inclination to pull their triggers, they lacked the will to kill, being tired and at their physical limit. Yet discipline under pins all the soldiers life, routine and orders must be followed.
All aspects of daily life, the tedium, the need for morale are touched upon. The desire to punish and a court-martial. The need for foot management, lice, mud, rum ration and awards/ribbons.
The disconnect with home but the desire for leave. The bodies lying around unburied, where they turn up and the troops superstitions around touching the dead.
The constant drilling of the men. the dangers moving even behind their lines, the courage of the stretcher-bearers and the simple working classes that filled the ranks. This is in stark contrast to the commissioned ranks that were middle class or products of public schools became the officer class with servants and privileges no-one questioned.
It is an honest account told with a degree of pain, few complaints and a honesty that reads well. It brings more pride to my remembrance of these simple acts. Brings clarity and depth to events that still make one angry and how little we have had to overcome as young people.
As a reader I don't feel manipulated or emotionally played. I was moved by a first hand account that sought to explain but not justify events. That educates without any patronising with no real point to
convey. It is a realisation some may not want to reflect upon but it is a real honour to gain such insights. In an age where few told of their experiences with understandable reserve, to catch a glimpse through a portal in time is not so much a pleasure as a reality check.
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