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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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE 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 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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on 26 April 2014
A masterful work. When I started reading this book I questioned what It was going to be about, but quickly tuned in to the author's masterful and skilfully written little word pictures of life on the Western Front. The wholeness of the scene he depicts covers a complete spectrum of experience, giving keenly observed descriptions of the places he visited and the living conditions men tolerated in the trenches. His observations on those around him who shared with him the destruction, fear, horror and revulsion of total war, buoyed up by a will to survive, are very interesting. His few lines of verse are a highlight of the book.
I would compare Plowman's work to a painting, each paragraph a stroke of the brush blending or contrasting with the next, to create the finished picture.
Appropriate reading on the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Great war
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on 1 September 2014
Probably the most authentic feeling book of the great war that I have read. I was brought up in the 1930s and 40s surrounded by ex soldiers who would not discuss their experiences which were too terrible to mention. Accordingly my actual knowledge of that conflict was very slight. The second world war then arrived and for years during and afterwards , stories of that time were openly discussed and portrayed in films etc. The comparison of coverage of both terrible wars was very different! This book accurately portrays the unbelievable conditions the participants had to endure,which I now realise were far worse than I had considered possible.No wonder my father and relatives would never wish to be reminded of them !
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on 25 April 2014
This covers the author's six months or so in an infantry regiment in the Somme region. Although Plowman didn't get involved in any actual 'over the top' or 'raiding' activities, he was in a front line regiment which had its fair share of artillery bombardment and casualties, and of course the discomfort of the trenches. This, combined with the never-ending round of work parties, marching and other activities made the war an endurance test for many. This is the aspect which comes over best in the book, which gives a realistic rounded account of a subaltern's life on the Western Front, rather than focussing only on the fighting aspects. Plowman later became a conscientious objector, and the book reflects the disillusionment with the war and the conduct of it which led to his later decision.
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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 23 May 2014
In the narratives of war a matter-of-fact style of presentation seems to work best and this is a fine example of that style. Things just happen, as they did; and the narrator's sense of surprise, almost, that they survived and were not killed, is a surprise shared intimately with the reader. The obvious fact that we are reading the narrator's words does not diminish our expectation that disaster will strike, eventually, nor our surprise when it does not. We are involved. We may be killed ourselves. So many are killed. We feel danger ourselves.
This is a fine book and it involves the reader, subtlety, in the day-to-day business of conflict on a large-scale.
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on 31 July 2014
A brilliant book and the writing is superb and electrifying....I found I difficult to put it down till the next day. He has a way of writing to resurrect the horror of all that happened and to involve one in it (Heaven forbid). He really could write down all the consternation, dismay, dread, fear, fright and panic with the terror they all felt all the time they continued to fight....as they were told they must. His writing is about the most loathsome fighting but intensely vivid and exceptional I have read on extracts of the First World War.
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on 14 February 2014
I was quite enjoying this book until I got to the parts where the writer keeps describing a German automatic pistol as a "Revolver". A revolver "revolves"...quite simple. It may seem that I'm being pernickety but when I read this type of thing in what is supposed to be a true story; it puts me off and leads me to think, "Was this man really in the thick of it or is a lot of it made up?" I find it hard to believe that a British officer doesn't know the difference in an Automatic or Semi Automatic and a Revolver. However, I'm still about three quarter way through it and enjoying it. Worth the read.
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