The Soldiers' War is genuinely exceptional. There are other Great War anthologies around, but this one stands out by a country mile. The book claims to contain primarily unpublished stories from 1914-1918 and whilst I do not know enough about the period to comment, I do not recognise any accounts that I have read before. Furthermore, the breadth and exquisite balance of the tales here makes this book so very gripping. The book contains not just the familiar stories associated with the war, but others that I have never even thought about: There is a man pulling 18th Century pewter from a dugout, another finding a Roman Sword uncovered by a shell explosion. There are stories of the survival and the beauty of nature, and of men locating trout ponds behind the Somme Battlefield for a spot of fishing. Some of the stories are frightening and, at times, violent; many others are deeply moving and occasionally almost poetic, emotionally charged as they are. Others are genuinely funny, such as the officer who writes about two Geordie friends one of whom is shot and wounded. One man rips open the tunic of the other, looks at the wound and says `ee man, its champion'. The friend, pleased with the nice wound, replies: `Howay, Geordie, gan awa and shake hands with the German for bein' sae canny.' The incredible gallows humour of conflict. I found the illustrations extraordinary, not least because the soldiers themselves took them, using their own private cameras, which were banned and therefore illegal. I've never seen such privately taken images elsewhere, although one slight nit-picky point here is the quality of reproduction - it's good, but given their historical importance might have been a little better. That said, on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, this book is an outstanding tribute to those men who lost so much, and whose sacrifices we must keep on remembering.
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