Unlike most histories of WW1, this book focuses very much more on the families left behind than the experiences of the soldiers at the Front. Inevitably the fighting at the Front plays a role in the narrative, but the focus is very much on the experience of the women left alone to cope at home - ranging from the financial support received from the government, the all-too-brief periods of leave, the heartrending official notifications, the uncertainty of the 'missing', the debates and controversies over the decision not to repatriate the dead, the varying means of grieving.
Like all of van Emden's books, it draws heavily on primary sources and survivor testimony, which, to my mind at least, makes the narrative that much more personal and moving. Reading the words of soldiers' letters home or the memoirs of grieving fathers or the recollections of men and women who scarcely knew the fathers who never came home, makes the soldiers featured here real people, rather than the amorphous grey mass of soldiery that feature in so many histories of WW1.
Unlike WW2, where the Home Front really was a Front in the war and there were no lines to shelter behind, civilians in WW1 were to a large extent cushioned from the horror of Belgium and France; which is not to say that these fathers and mothers and wives and children were not suffering too, in their own way. Van Emden infuses these accounts with real dignity and pathos, highlighting that neither soldiers nor their families could really comprehend the experiences the other went though in wartime, but the pain felt was no less real, and no less lifelong, for that.