1 April 2017 Susannah

WWI and Books

Books Wanted for our Men

100 years ago the world was at war. In April 1917 America declared war on Germany, the Battle of Vimy Ridge took place (many Canadians were killed there), and also the Battle of Chemin des Dames. In Russia the Tsar had just abdicated and the country was engulfed in revolution, Germany was being squeezed by the British naval blockade, while in the Middle East the Ottoman Empire was losing ground to British-led forces.

A.A. Milne (who had been injured at the Front) was writing propaganda for British intelligence, Robert Graves had been sent to the royal home of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight to get over shell shock, and Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were hospitalised in Craiglockhart Hospital, Edinburgh (the building now has an excellent museum to Sassoon and Owen). Canadian poet John McCrae had found himself suddenly famous as a result of writing In Flanders Fields, but in spite of that fame was serving as army surgeon in France, with less than a year to live.

Books Wanted for our Men by Charles Buckles Falls

Books Wanted for our Men by Charles Buckles Falls

WWI produced many great poets (and I’m not going to discuss war poetry here), but it also produced memoirs and novels, from both sides of the conflict. Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves, Sassoon’s, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Peace with Honour written by A.A. Milne in 1934 (his plea to the world not to engage in another conflict), Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger, A Farewell to Arms reflecting Hemingway’s own experience in the Italian ambulance service, Vera Brittan’s Testament of Youth, and L.M. Montgomery’s fabulous Rilla of Ingleside which tells of the war from the point of view of the women waiting at home – these are all works I can recommend. More modern writers have also written of the Great War – some of my favourites are Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, and War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.

And for superb factual accounts of the war, you could try The Guns of August which won a Pulitzer Prize for its author, Barbara Tuchman, The Great War by Les Carlyon, Castles of Steel by Robert K. Massie, and Gallipoli: The Fatal Shore by Harvey Broadbent.

And did you know that one of the books most often read by soldiers at the front in WWI was Pride and Prejudice? What better therapy for the horrors of war could there be?

“War is something of man’s own fostering, and if all mankind renounces it, then it is no longer there.” (A.A. Milne)


Do you read war stories or poetry? Who is your favourite author? I value your input, tell me in the comments.


  Susannah Fullerton: WWI and Books

   In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
   Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
   Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon
   All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
   Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger
   A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
   Testament of Youth by Vera Brittan
   Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
   Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker
   Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
   Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
   War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
   The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
   The Great War by Les Carlyon
   Castles of Steel by Robert K. Massie
   Gallipoli: The Fatal Shore by Harvey Broadbent
   Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.


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Featured image credit- American WWI soldiers reading in between drills, from The American Library Association Archives, https://ala-archives.tumblr.com/post/152996411020/heres-a-veterans-day-themed-throwback-thursday
Body image credit- Books Wanted for our Men by Charles Buckles Falls (ca.1918). from Boston Public Library, https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/4403763323
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Comments (12)

  1. Donald Nairn

    A very interesting book about WW1 literature isThe Great War And Modern Memory byPaul Fussell.
    He reflects on how so many of the British troops were widely read and literate and how the conflict gave rise
    to so many memoirs and historical accounts.The book is about the long term perceptions of the war that flowed therefrom. Another poet, Edward Blunden wrote Undertones of War which is also almost moving book..
    I have recently reread Alan Moorehead’s Gallipoli, which is a wonderful account of the whole campagne including
    the politics of all sides in the conflict. it reads like a thriller.


    • Susannah Fullerton

      The Fussell book sounds fascinating – thanks for the recommendation. I have not read any Alan Moorehead for years but remember loving his books on The Blue Nile and The White Nile. I will look out his Gallipoli book.

  2. Penny Morris

    In 2013, as a member of the Sydney Philharmonia choirs, I was part of a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” in which he uses Wilfred Owen’s poem Anthem for Doomed Youth – just a lump in the throat experience. I loved reading Pat Barker’s Trilogy although found the second part quite confronting and am rereading “The Great War” by Les Carlyon having recently read Peter Fitzsimons book on Fromelles and Pozieres. It’s so sobering to remind myself of what that generation went through and how lucky my generation is.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, some of these war books make depressing reading. I felt so terribly sad when I finished Les Carylon’s books that man could inflict such violence and misery on his fellow man. ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is such a superb poem. I would love to hear the Benjamin Britten music along with it.

  3. Margi Abraham

    I have always loved the English WWI poets, especially Rupert Brooke. While the subject is not the trenches, Dining Room Tea is the most transcendent description of pure love, as time stands stands still. I would love to hear you read it Susannah! I have enjoyed the Pat Barker Trilogy and listening to All Quiet on the Western Front in the car required me to pull over to weep. A Farewell to Arms left me cold, but Hemingway doesn’t seem to work for me.

    As for WWII, I recently read Chris Cleeve’s Everything Brave is Forgiven and would highly recommend this novel. Its evocation of living through the Blitz in London is more vivid and shocking than anything I have read or seen on film before, but the story it weaves in London and besieged Malta is funny, gripping and moving and based on Cleeve’s father’s own experience.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks Margi, for your recommendation. The Chris Cleeve novel sounds excellent and I will add it to my list. Hemingway often leaves me cold too, though I love ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.

  4. Sue McCarthy

    Your WW1 book collection should include “Monash: the outsider who won a war” by Roland Perry, an absolutely superb biography of General Sir John Monash.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have not read it, which is why it was not included in my list, but many thanks for the recommendation, Sue. It does sound good!

  5. Penny Lane

    Susannah, my favourite war poem is Leon Gellert’s Anzac Cove.

    There’s a lonely stretch of hillocks:
    There’s a beach asleep and drear:
    There’s a battered broken fort beside the sea.
    There are sunken trampled graves:
    And a little rotting pier:
    And winding paths that wind unceasingly.
    There’s a torn and silent valley:
    There’s a tiny rivulet
    With some blood upon the stones beside its mouth.
    There are lines of buried bones:
    There’s an unpaid waiting debt :
    There’s a sound of gentle sobbing in the South.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is a wonderfully moving poem, isn’t it. That ‘sobbing’ just pulls at the heart strings. Thanks for sharing it, Penny.

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