What are your favourite WW1 books?

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I read a lot. Mostly history (which is a yawn for most people, I know), and mostly WW1 related. However, after reading my last book ‘In Flanders Fields – The 1917 Campaign’ my WW1 bookcase is dry… So here is a heart-felt plea to the 1500 or so people who read this blog every month (Thank you to all of you by the way!), to give me some inspiration for my next batch of WW1 literature…What books have you read on this part of history that you would recommend to me and to others? Let me have your top ten, top five or even top one…I will even except blatant plugs from authors and/or publishers…cos I am a nice guy like that..

To start the ball rolling, here are a few of my faves (in no particular order):

In Flanders Fields – The 1917 Campaign (Leon Wolff). A brutal, and opinionated view of the battle of Passchendaele. Wolff leaves the reader in no doubt who he think is to blame for this (in his view) un-necessary part of the war. It is very bias, certainly no sitting on the fence here!

Somme Mud (E P F Lynch).  Lynch was an Australian, fighting with the 45th Battalion AIF from late 1916 to the end of the war. This is his memoirs. It may not be the best written book in the world, but it picks you up by the throat and throws you into the trenches like no other book I have read. It will make you laugh out loud as well as shed a tear. A brilliant, brilliant book.

Any book by Lyn MacDonald. Lyn MacDonald is probably the best writer/author on the First World War ever. That is just the way it is. Her books (including 1914, Somme, They Called it Passchendaele) tell the tale of the war through the eyes (and voices) of the soldiers that were there. For each book she has interviewed hundreds of soldiers, of all ranks and regiments and weaves in sharp historic facts with their personal, intimate story. The First World War was about individuals. Unassuming men who were working in shops or offices one minute and fighting for their lives in the trenches the next. MacDonald’s books ensures their voices are heard.

The First Day on The Somme (Martin Middlebrook) The finest account of the blackest day in British military history. immensely detailed, it is an epic book that has been meticulously researched..an absolute classic.

Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front (Richard Holmes). Want to know what it was really like in the Trenches on the Western Front? Then this is the book for you. This war was about the people, which is why this book is so important. It doesn’t explain grandiose battle plans or military strategy and it doesn’t spit out endless statistics on every aspect of everything. This book is about the men. The people who actually did the fighting. What was it like to live in the front line trenches, what did they eat, how did they clean themselves and their kit, what did the private soldiers think of the officer ranks? Taken from thousands of first hand accounts, this is a great piece of work.

Forgotten Voices of the Great War (Max Arthur). I love the Forgotten Voices…series of books, again because it allows the ordinary man and woman to have their say. Using the War museums oral history archive this is a remarkable compilation of memories and anecdotes of the men and women who were actually there. Including front line soldiers, school children, objectors, and factory workers…

1914-1918: The History of the First World War (David Stevenson). Quite simply a staggering accomplishment. To coherently describe the events of such a complex and wide-ranging event is an enormous task. But Stevenson has done it brilliantly. Relatively easy to read (although it is 600 pages of small ish font), engaging and genuinely interesting – this is the book to read for a ‘soup-to-nuts’ overview of this war.

Right, there you go, that’s my 2 penneth, and I resisted the urge to blatantly push my own book! Now it is over to you. What are your favourites? Help fill my book shelf. Pleeaase!

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  • Richard Stockwell

    WW1 books. Have a read of Men of 18 in 1918 available from ahstockwell.co.uk

    Men of 18 in 1918 is the personal experience of a young British infantryman during a remarkable year of European history, the year 1918. The outcome of the First World War and the future shape of Europe depended on the eighteen-year-old youngsters who were suddenly rushed into battle following the German Army breakthrough in the spring of that year. They were inexperienced, and had not finished their training. They matured quickly on the battlefield in France. From March to July they stubbornly defended precarious positions. In August they were Britain’s prime assault troops in a 95 day non-stop attack culminating in the end of the four year war in November 1918. Marshal Foch, who had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of all the Allied Forces in France in March 1918, said, “Never, at any time in history has the British Army achieved greater results in attack than in this unbroken offensive.”
    Men of 18 in 1918 is not another war book. It is not a military history for the specialist. It is a book for the general public who want to follow the down-to-earth experiences of the ordinary soldier, plucked from teenage life in Britain and thrust into the front line of an international conflict. It is an objective and perceptive account of the daily life of the infantrymen who faced death, and endured the harsh realities of a battle in which they were the essential pawns. The detail is remarkable, full of human interest, irony, understatement and humour. The emotional honesty is impressive and moving. Although true it reads like grotesque fiction. It could only have been written by one who went through it and survived.

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