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.
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.
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
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