You’re going to hear, see and read a lot about the First World War in the next few years. A hundred year anniversary is a big deal. But most of what you’re going to be told is bullsh*t. If you want to know something closer to the truth, read the works of those who were there.
The First World War was an equal opportunity war, destroying the lives of rich and poor, simpleton and genius alike. Some of the geniuses made it out alive, and after a few years of trying to forget, gave in and turned horror into art, the best they could. What follows is my personal selection of those efforts. The best according to me.
Ford’s masterly story of destruction and regeneration follows the progress of Christopher Tietjens as his world is shattered by the Great War.
In four volumes – Some Do Not . . ., No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post – Parade’s End traces the psychological damage inflicted by battle, the collapse of England’s secure Edwardian values and the new age, embodied by Tietjens’ beautiful, selfish wife Sylvia. It is an elegy for the war dead and the passing of a way of life, and a work of amazing subtlety and profundity.
The drumming of the guns continued, with bursts of great intensity. It was as though a gale streamed overhead, piling up great waves of sound, and hurrying them onwards to crash in surf on the enemy entrenchments. The windless air about them, by its very stillness, made that unearthly music more terrible to hear.
First published anonymously in 1929 because its language was considered far too frank for public circulation, The Middle Parts of Fortune was hailed by more…
Under Fire by Henri Barbusse
‘Men are made to be husbands, fathers – men, in short! Not animals that hunt one another down’
Under Fire follows the fortune of a French battalion during the First World War. For this group of ordinary men, thrown together from all over France and longing for home, war is simply a matter of survival, and the arrival of their rations, a glimpse of a pretty girl or a brief reprieve in hospital is all they can hope for.
Based directly on Henri Barbusse’s experiences of the trenches, Under Fire is the most famous French novel of the more…
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is the most famous anti-war novel ever written.
One by one the boys begin to fall…
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
In 1918 Ernest Hemingway went to war, to the ‘war to end all wars’. He volunteered for ambulance service in Italy, was wounded and twice decorated. Out of his experiences came A Fairwell to Arms. Hemingway’s description of war is unforgettable. He recreates the fear, the comradeship, the courage of his young American volunteer and the men and women he meets in Italy with total conviction. But A Fairwell to Arms is not only a novel of war. In it Hemingway has also created a love story of immense drama and uncompromising passion.
One of the great antiwar novels of all time-honest, chilling, and brilliantly satirical.
Acclaimed poet Richard Aldington based his first novel on his own experiences on the Western Front during World War I. It tells the story of George Winterbourne, who enlists in the British Army and is sent to France. After a rash of casualties leads to his promotion through the ranks, he grows increasingly cynical about the war and disillusioned by the hypocrisies of British society. Aldington’s writing about the ignorance of Britain to the tribulations of its soldiers is utterly scathing, and his prose vividly evokes the morally degrading nature of combat. As Death of a Hero races to its astounding finish, the novel builds into a masterpiece of war literature.
The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston includes:
Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man (1928)
George Sherston develops from a shy and awkward child, through shiftless adolescence, to an officer just beginning to understand the horrors of trench warfare. The world he grows up in, of village cricket and loyal grooms, had vanished forever by the time Sassoon wrote this book, but he captures it with a lyricism and gentleness that defy nostalgia.
A bestseller on publication in 1928, this superb evocation of the Edwardian age has remained in print ever since. It was the first volume of a classic trilogy, completed by more…