It’s the 11th day of the 11th month today – and as always we remember those who gave their lives fighting in conflicts. Sitting on my to-read pile is The Five Children on the Western Front – Kate Saunders’ sequel to the Five Children and It which I’m hoping to get around to soon (nightshift brain permitting) as we continue through this centenary year of the outbreak of the Great War. I’ve read a fair few books this year that have a World War One setting – and have more still to read – but today I wanted to concentrate on the books written by the people who were there – who were writing from first hand experience. I first encountered these books during my War Literature module at A Level – but they still sit on my shelves now, more than a decade later. I’m not going to say much about any of them – just take it from me that they’re powerful and worth reading if you haven’t already.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – The Great War from the German Side of the Trenches.
Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves – this was my favourite of all the books I read for this module at the time, and it’s been too long since I read it. I keep meaning to go back and reread Robert Graves’ autobiography which covers a much wider period than the war and also introduces a lot of characters who pop up in other accounts – contemporary and modern.
Siegfried Sasson’s George Sherston Books are a semi-biographical account of his life and his time in the British Army. This gives a real sense of the Edwardian world which was shattered by the war as well as the conflict itself.
I’ve ummed and ahhed about including Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth because I detested this book when I read it at 17. But I know I am in the minority and many others have been profoundly moved by this account of the impact of the great war on a young woman.
If you are all Great War-ed out – then may I point you in the direction of Helen Forrester’s Lime Street at Two – the fourth book telling the story of her poverty-stricken life in Liverpool which deals with the worst of World War II. Really I think you should read the whole lot (starting with Twopence to Cross the Mersey) but this is well worth reading alone. I was 10 when I first read it (there or there abouts) and cried buckets and then appropriated one of my mother’s shopping bags and tried to draw lines up the back of my legs and pretended to be her for several days.
And if you have children, then Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners, Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mr Tom and Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War had a massive impact on me as a child and really brought home to me the reality of World War II.