First World War Novels

The First Casualty By Ben Elton.



This modern novel begins by looking at the lives of two very different people. Douglas Kingsley, a detective but a conscientious objector to the war; and Viscount Abercrombie, a British officer but also a famous poet. Kingsley is imprisoned for his beliefs and his terrible experiences within prison are contrasted to the horrors being experienced by Abercrombie within the war at the Third battle of Ypres.

However the two stories are suddenly brought together with the sudden death of Abercrombie; shot not by German fire but behind lines whilst recovering from shell shock. This event leads the secret intelligence service to smuggle Kingsley out of the purgatory of prison and send him directly into the hell of war to investigate this murder, discover the truth and to bring justice. Yet as Kingsley discovers, the first casualty of war is actually truth itself. As the story becomes more twisted, we see the Kingsley begin to battle with his own conscience, having to come to terms with the horrors surrounding him and the horrors that he himself has to commit to just keep himself alive to try and discover the dark secret hidden within the Viscounts death.




1. (Pg. 129-130- Shannon and Kingsley (after being smuggled from prison) are discussing poets in the war, particularly Sassoon, before heading to the Secret intelligence service base in London)

“-‘Sneaking home with a bit of shell shock and letting the side down. We can do without war heroes turning conchies on us. Bad enough when famous detectives do it but Sassoon was one of us.

            Everyone knew of Siegfried Sassoon and his protest. A bona fide hero, he had become utterly disillusioned and whilst invalided home had written to the newspapers resigning from the army and denouncing the war as wicked and pointless. As he was something of a celebrity, his letter had caused a sensation. He had very nearly been court-martialled, but after a number of strings were pulled and attention drawn to his numerous battle credits he was sent to a hospital to be treated for shell shock.

            ‘They should have shot him,’ Shannon said.

            ‘For stating the obvious after eighteen months in the line? That seems a little harsh, Captain.’

            ‘Oh, don’t get me wrong Inspector. We all know that he’s right, the war’s gone mad, nothing could possibly be worth the price we’re paying, but they should have shot him all the same because, you see, we have to win this war. We just have to. And I can assure you, whatever revolting conchies like you might think, most of the fellows agree. We’re the British Empire, for God’s sake, we can’t go through all this and lose.’

            We’ve already lost. Everybody has already lost.’


1. “Sassoon was one of us.”- Comradeship, view of soldiers towards Sassoon protest, ‘us’ puts Sassoon in the same category as Shannon who is ironically completely opposite of the Sassoon seen in Regeneration.

2. “the war’s gone mad, nothing could possibly be worth the price we’re paying”-

So why are they fighting? No belief in fighting for King and country?, ‘Mad’ links to themes of madness. If War itself has gone mad then everyone fighting it must be mad too. Yet they still fight on for no reason. Similar view as Owen expcept he believes war should end because of this, not continue until a reason is found.

3. “We’re the British Empire, for God’s sake, we can’t go through all this and lose”

Themes of Pride, only still fighting as too stubborn to lose. Bringing God into it could relate to view that God has to be on their side, even though both sides would be saying this. Also if they can’t go through all this and lose then it’s okay for the Germans to? Shows how soldiers who’ve spent a lot longer in the war think to those who’ve jus joined.

4. “We’ve already lost. Everybody has already lost.”- themes of loss, loss of physical and mental abilities of soldiers. Loss of lives of friends, family. Everyone includes civilians, not just soldiers. Kingsley has a more broad perspective than Shannon who only refers to the army.


2.(Pg: 211-212: Kingsley now in France is heading towards a NYDN (not yet diagnosed-but nervous) centre where Abercrombie was murdered. He hitches a ride in an ambulance.)

            “For a moment he wished that he had walked. The atmosphere was stifling but it was not the fug of unwashed men sitting about him caked in mud and blood that oppressed him so; it was their faces. It was their eyes.

            Kingsley had known instantly that things were not right when not a single man returned his greeting as he climbed into the truck. The silence that met him was far more intimidating than the sound of guns, which had been clearly audible ever since he had gotten off the train. Kingsley should have been expecting it, of course; he knew exactly what kind of facility it was towards which he was heading and he knew that many shell shocked victims were mute. All the same, these silent men who had withdrawn inside themselves, staring at nothing with their empty, startled expressions, unnerved him. It felt to Kingsley, as they bumped along the cobbled road in their ill-sprung vehicle, that he was sitting amongst the living dead. He was ashamed to realise that these poor wretched scared him.

            Suddenly, there was a scream.”


  1. ‘it was their eyes’ similar image used as Owen and Regeneration. Could be soulless, lifeless, cold, intimate part of body being affected and damaged by war.
  2. sitting amongst the living dead” irony as many sat around him were later sent back and killed. Look like corpses, mentally and physically drained by war. Experiencing Living hell the men face. Similar imagery to Burns in Regeneration described like a corpse with “yellowish skin”
  3. He was ashamed to realise that these poor wretched scared him. After all the horrors he’s seen, this is ironic. Similar to how Sarah felt in regeneration when she came across the severely injured men hidden from view from civilians. 


Authors approach:

The authors approach was well done, taking into accounts all the different points of view such as Civilians, women, soldiers (old and young, and class), the irish, the gay community, communists and pacifists. All groups, no matter how they acted, all believed the war was horrific yet because of that many of those mentioned, like the soldiers and some civilians, felt it had to continue for their to have been a point for the loss already caused. The style of the story was typical of modern day novel about the first world war due to the fact it included so many different perspectives and saw both sides yet came to the conclusion that the war shouldn’t have happened, least not for as long as it did. The themes of truth, justice, comradeship, love, brutality etc. are all present but some parts could have been explored further as Kingsley seemed detached within the war and not really that affected even when people he’d been speaking to are blown apart before him. The contrast of the Prison and Battlefield at the start was particularly effective as it showed the reader how those in prison wished to be in war, yet those in war would have gladly traded places. It also showed similarities between the two, the brutality within each and how war was effectively a prison for the soldiers, as even by being badly wounded; they couldn’t escape and go home but were forced to re-enter battle.






Under Fire by Henri Barbusse


Under Fire takes the form of journal-like anecdotes which the unnamed narrator claims to be writing to record his time in the war. The novel follows the fortunes of the French Sixth 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.

The book opens and ends with broad visions shared by multiple characters, but beyond these the action of the novel takes place entire in occupied France.

The best-known chapter, “The Fire” (Le feu) shares the French-language title of the book. It describes a trench assault from the Allied (French) trench across No-Man’s Land into the German trench.


Extract One


For the past month Poterloo has been walking around in some German private’s boots, lovely ones, almost new, reinforced with iron at the heels. Caron gave them to him when he was evacuated because of his arm. Caron himself got them off a Bavarian machine-gunner who was shot near the Pylones road. I can still hear him telling us about it:

            ‘There he was, old chap, this Hun, his bum in a hole, bent in two: he was eyeing up the air and showing me his boots as if to say that they were worth having. They’ll fit, I told myself. But you can’t imagine what a job it was getting the gear off him! I worked on it, pulling them, turning them and shaking them, for half an hour and I still couldn’t manage it. With his feet stiff like that the bloke wasn’t doing much to help. Then, finally, after I’d pulled them this way and that, the funny fellow’s legs came off at the knees, his trousers tore and the whole bang shoot came away, crack! There I was, all of a sudden, with a full boot in each hand. I had to empty the legs and feet out of them.’

‘You’re laying it on a bit thick!’

‘Ask the cyclist Euterpe if it ain’t true. I tell you, he done it with me: we stuck our paws in the boots and pulled out some bone, bits of sock and lumps of foot. But just look! Wasn’t it worth the trouble?’

While waiting for Caron to come back, Poterloo is getting some wear out of the boots that the Bavarian machine-gunner never wore out.

This is how one contrives to ward off the dreadful discomforts of trench life, according to ones native wit, energy, abilities and nerve.


·        Simple language, language of the men in the trenches, gets the message across clearly

·        Anecdotal, like the majority of the novel- telling each other humourous stories to keeps themselves occupied and entertained whilst sitting in the trenches

·        Colloquial, ‘There he was, old chap, this Hun, his bum in a hole, bent in two’

‘the whole bang shoot came away, crack!’

·        Serious finish to the humourous anecdote, ‘This is how one contrives to ward off the dreadful discomforts of trench life, according to ones native wit, energy, abilities and nerve.’ Reminding the reader that this is the only way they could keep their minds active but they were still in the trenches, at war.

·        ‘For the past month Poterloo has been walking around in some German private’s boots, lovely ones, almost new, reinforced with iron at the heels.’ Appears very normal and an ordinary thing to do, not back home but in the trench it seemed fine to steal a soldiers boots.






Extract Two


Above this tortured, blackened land the rout of tree trunks stands out against a streaky brown sky, milky in places, vaguely scintillating- an onyx sky.

            Across the entrance to Trench 96, the great body of a felled oak. A corpse is blocking the trench. Its head and legs are buried and the muddy water that flows along the bottom has covered the rest with a sandy glaze. Under this damp veil you can see the swelling of the chest and belly covered by a shirt.

We step over these remains, iced, viscous and clear as the belly of some kind of beached reptile- and it is no easy task because of the soft, slippery ground. We have to stick our hands up to the wrists in the mud of the trench wall.

            At that moment a hellish whistling sound falls upon us. We bend like reeds. The shrapnel bursts, deafening and blinding, in the air ahead of us, and buries us in a mountain of dark smoke, full of fearful hisses. One soldier who was coming up waves his arms and vanishes, cast into some pit or the other. Shouts rise and fall like debris. At the same time, through the great black veil, which the wind tears off the earth and tosses into the sky, we see the stretcher bearers put down their burden and run towards the point of the explosion where they pick up something that is lying there, inert- and I recall the unforgettable image of the night when my brother-in-arms Poterloo, whose heart was full of hope, seemed to fly away, both arms outstretched, in the flame of a shell.

            We finally reach the top of the hill where, like a signal, a frightful wounded man marks the place. He is there, standing in the wind, shaken but upright, rooted to the spot, in his overcoat which flaps in the air. We can see his face, screaming and convulsed, as we walk past this sort of shouting tree.


·        Contrast to the previous extract- everything can suddenly happen at once

·        More descriptive and graphic, ‘We step over these remains, iced, viscous and clear as the belly of some kind of beached reptile’

‘The shrapnel bursts, deafening and blinding, in the air ahead of us, and buries us in a mountain of dark smoke, full of fearful hisses.’

·        Metaphorical- ‘through the great black veil’

·        Personification of the wind- ‘which the wind tears off the earth and tosses into the sky’

·        ‘We see the stretcher bearers put down their burden and run towards the point of the explosion where they pick up something that is lying there’- ‘burden’ and ‘something’ very blase about the soldiers, they are nothing but a thing or a burden-negative, de-humanisation. Shows reality of the war.


In contrast to many war novels which came before it, Under Fire described war in gritty and brutal realism. It is noted for its realistic descriptions of death in war and the squalid trench conditions.

Barbusse wrote Under Fire while he was still enlisted. He claimed to have taken notes for the novel while still in the trenches; after being injured and reassigned from the front, he wrote and published the novel while working at the War Office in 1916.

Its unique position of being published before the end of the war, the so-called “war book boom” took place only in the 1920’s, led to its being well-known and widely-read. Jacques Bertillon referred to Barbusse as a “moral witness … with a story to tell and re-tell”

Like many war novels, however, Under Fire was criticised for fictionalising details of the war. Jean Norton Cru, who was commissioned to critique French literature of the First World War, called Under Fire “a concoction of truth, half-truth, and total falsehood”

Written during the war and based on his own experiences, Henri Barbusse’s novel is a powerful account of one of the greatest horrors mankind has inflicted upon itself.








‘Old Soldiers Never Die’ by Frank Richards


A Synopsis

‘Old Soldiers Never Die’ is the memoir by Frank Richards that follows his journey right from being a reservist when war broke out, rejoining his 2nd Battalion and staying with them for the duration of the fighting, never missing a single battle. He portrays himself as the typical ‘old soldier’, who tells an honest and personal account of the horrors that he witnessed on the front line and describes numerous occasions on which he finely escaped death. The most prominent themes that Richards explores are the day-to-day hardships and unsanitary conditions of trench life, the scale of death around him and the unimaginable pain of the injuries, comradeship and compassion towards the enemy, corruption of some of the upper ranks and bravery vs. cowardice. He also provides insight into the punishments that soldiers received if they were labelled as cowards and the desperate measures that some went to in order to avoid this, for example self-inflicted wounds. By the end of the war, Richards had won the DCM and MM for bravery but still came out as a Private. He puts his survival down to luck and having pulled off a 20000:1 chance.


B Extract One: CHRISTMAS, 1914

On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with “A Merry Christmas” on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one. Platoons would sometimes for out for twenty-four hours rest-it was a day at least out of the trench and relieved the monotony a bit- and my platoon had gone out in this way the night before, but a few of us stayed behind to see what would happen. Two of our men threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans had done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, out two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench. Buffalo Bill rushed into the trench and endeavoured to prevent it, but he was too late: the whole of the Company were now out, and so were the Germans, He had to accept the situation, so soon he and the other company officers climbed out too. We and the Germans met in the middle of no-man’s-land. Their officers were also now out. Out officers exchanged greetings with them. One of the German officers said that he wished he had a camera to take a snapshot, but they were not allowed to carry cameras. Neither were our officers.

We mucked in all day with one another. They were Saxons and some of them could speak English. By the look of them their trenches were in as bad a state as our own. One of their men, speaking in English, mentioned that he had worked in Brighton for some years and that he was fed up to the neck with this damned war and would be glad when it was all over. We told him that he wasn’t the only one that was fed up. We did not allow them in out trench and they did now allow us in theirs. The German Company-Commander asked Buffalo Bill if he would accept a couple barrels of beer and assured him that it would not make his men drunk. They had plenty of it in the brewery. He accepted the offer with thanks and a couple of their men rolled the barrels over and we took them into our trench. The German officer sent one of his men back to the trench, who appeared shortly after carrying a tray with bottles and glasses. Officers of both sides clinked glasses and drunk to one another’s health. Buffalo Bill had presented them with a plum pudding just before. The officers came to an understanding that the unofficial truce would end at midnight. At dusk we went back to our respective trenches.


n      Simple language puts across message clearly

n      Author emphasises each side mirroring the other’s actions to highlight that the ‘enemy’ is in the same situation e.g. similar Merry Christmas boards, similar trench conditions, sharing of beer and plum pudding.

n      The ‘Germans’ or ‘their men’ is used rather than the ‘enemy’.

n      Irony – ‘drunk to one another’s health’ when the next day, they would be shooting each other again.

n      To ‘take a snapshot’ ‘exchange greetings’ and to have ‘mucked in all day’ seem very ordinary things to do, making the reality of ending the unofficial truce even more stark.


Extract Two: Aid Post

One morning in the Aid Post I noticed a man who had a very bad boil high up on his back. The doctor lanced it and removed a large core, which left a decent hole. The Aid Post sergeant put a little dressing on, with some strips of sticking plaster over it. The following morning the man informed the doctor that he had spent a very restless night, and that if he could reach the spot where the dressing was he would have ripped it off. When the plaster and dressing were removed, inside the hole were three lice. No wonder the man had spent a restless night, and yet only forty-eight hours previously the man had had a bath and a supposed clean shirt.

n      To ‘lance’ is unsympathetic and reminds the reader of the weapon so using it to describe the doctor’s treatment makes the procedure sound agonizing.

n      ‘A little’ dressing and ‘some strips’ of sticking plaster shows how scarce materials were in the trenches.

n      ‘Informed’ seems an understated way for the patient to talk to the doctor when compared to ‘ripped it off’.

n      The author does not comment on the lice, leaving the reader to reflect upon the horror.

n      ‘Only 48 hours earlier’ emphasises the extent of the unsanitary conditions in the war zone


C Analysis of author’s overall approach, perspective, style, themes etc

Frank Richards approaches this novel from the viewpoint of an ordinary soldier, revealing accounts of the day-to-day trench life of the soldiers for example, the food that they ate and where they slept, descriptions of daily bombardments or missions into no-man’s-land and details of his thought and feelings on the decisions and orders made by the upper ranks about the war. His style is informal and colloquial, which allows the novel to directly involve the reader as if telling them a story. Themes include: death, shell shock, attitude towards the enemy, civilians, comradeship, fear of disfigurement and heroism.

D How compares to other texts, authors and attitudes. E How typical of that age, gender, experience

This novel is typical of the war experience of a Private soldier who witnesses the war first-hand. Most of the events Richards describes are incidents that other soldiers could relate to or tell similar stories about. However, an atypical attitude towards the war could be that Richards rarely mentions the futility of war and death. He frequently talks about the horrors of the deaths and the destruction that the war caused but does not comment on or protest against the purpose of the war. This contrasts many other frontline experiences e.g. Sassoon mainly writes about the sufferings of the soldiers and protests against the ‘insincerities’ of the continuance of the war.





Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Siegfried Sassoon


This is Sassoon’s fictionalized autobiography of his experiences in the trenches during World War I, between the spring of 1916 and the summer of 1917. The narrative moves from the trenches to his time spent in England during his sick leave. It is based throughout The Somme and provides a daily account of the action and the men Sassoon meets during his time in the trenches. It is an accurate and thoughtful reflection upon his experiences during the First World War and provides an authentic account of one man’s experience of a highly traumatic set of events. However it is not heavily focussed on the brutality and killing of war but the ‘behind the scenes’ side, although it does give a number of moving extracts about Sassoon’s feelings towards the war including his Declaration. Sassoon wrote about the horror of war, but in a style and with a talent that prevented that horror from overshadowing all other aspects, and the result is an articulate account by a man with a highly developed sense of human responsibility.

Extract 1

“The paint smear were like ungainly birds with wide spread wings, fishes floating, monkeys in the scarecrow trees, or anything else my idle brain cared to contrive. In one corner a fight was going on (in a futuristic style) and a figure brandished a club while his adversary took a side leap, losing an arm and a leg from a bomb explosion. Then someone darken the doorway with a rumour that the Battalion had been moved up to attack High Wood-a new name, and soon afterwards an ugly one. Night would fall, with the others playing ‘Nap’ and talking stale war stuff out of the Daily Mail, and the servants singing by a bright shell-box fire in the gusty twilight. And I would think about driving home from cricket matches before the war, wondering whether I’d ever go back to that sort of thing again.”


* Animal imagery ‘ungainly birds’, ‘monkeys in the scarecrow trees’ shows that nature is involved in the war or the men have become like animals.

* ‘stale war stuff out of the Daily Mail’ implies the negative feelings towards society and the bitterness the soldiers feel towards those at the home front.

* ‘singing’ as they fire into the gusty twilight, shows that their emotions have become numbed, try to stay positive but its ironic that they should be singing whilst fighting.

* Implications about the future suggest the little hope the men have for returning home safely.





Extract 2

“More than once I wasn’t sure if I was awake or asleep; the ward was half shadow and half sinking firelight and the beds were quiet and huddled with sleep. Shapes of mutilated soldiers came crawling across the floor; the floor seemed to be littered with fragments of mangled flesh. Faces glared upwards; hands clutched at neck or belly; a livid grinning face with bristly moustache peered at me above the edge of my bed; his hands clawed at the sheets. Some were like dummy fingers used to deceive snipers; others were alive and looked at me reproachfully, as though envying me the warm safety of life which they’d longed for when they shrivelled in the gloomy dawn, waiting for the whistle to blow and the bombardment lift…his head lolled sideways and he collapsed; there was a hole in his jaw and the blood spread across his white face like ink split on blotting paper.”


* The graphic imagery creates a very real and horrific image

* The extract highlights the corruption of the war and the immense effects it has had.

* Long well structured sentences, list like emphasis the horror of the war and how much damage it has done.

* Language such as ‘mutilated’ and ‘fragments’ makes use of war imagery and highlights that this is seen everywhere in battle

* ‘like ink split on blotting paper’ makes it seems as though blood shed is just as simple and accidental as spilling ink. Human life is worthless.



 This novel is a classic and is viewed as one of the better books from World War One as it has a wide focus. It can been seen as an atypical approach as it doesn’t look at the horror and destruction in such a graphic detail and emphasis as some novels/memoirs did, however it is a true depiction of what life was really like as is admired for its honesty.






Journey’s End – R.C.Sheriff



Journey’s End is set in a dug-out in the British trenches in France. It covers 3 days in the last year of the First World War in March 1918 and is based on Sheriff’s own experiences of the front. In the first act we see Captain Hardy informing Captain Osborne, second in command to Stanhope, that a German attack is imminent. The play then follows the preparations and discussion of this attack. The first act follows the arrival of Raleigh, who was at school with Stanhope and is the brother of Stanhope’s girlfriend, and the fear that Stanhope has that Raleigh will inform his sister of how Stanhope has changed due to the effects of the war. In the second act we find the German attack is to take place that Thursday morning. At this point one of the officers complains of neuralgia and Stanhope, realising that he is pretending, forces him to stay. With the approaching attack the Colonel organises a raid to capture a German to get information about the attack. Osborne and Raleigh are sent, and are successful in their capture but Osborne is killed by a hand grenade. The act then follows the effect Osborne’s death has on Raleigh and Stanhope. In the last act we see the officers leave the dug-out to face the German attack. Raleigh is however wounded and we see the height of his and Stanhope’s friendship before Raleigh dies. The play then ends with the dug-out being directly hit by a shell.



Pg. 42 Act 2, Scene 1

Raleigh: [after a pause] The Germans are really quite decent, aren’t they? I mean, outside the papers?

Osborne: Yes. [Pause]. I remember up at wipers we had a man shot when he was out on patrol. Just at dawn. We couldn’t get him in that night. He lay out there groaning all day. Next night three of our men crawled out to get him. It was so near the German trenches that they could have shot our fellows one by one. But, when our men began dragging the wounded man back over the rough ground, a big German officer stood up in their trenches and called out: ‘Carry him!’ – and our fellows stood up and carried the man back and the German officer fired some lights for them to see by.

Raleigh: How topping!

Osborne: Next day we blew each other’s trenches to blazes

Raleigh: It all seems rather- silly, doesn’t it?

Osborne: It does rather


§         The irony of the story and “Next day we blew each other’s trenches to blazes” highlights the reality of war. The words used here make its sound almost like a game and emphasises the pointlessness of it

§         Pointlessness reinforced by Raleigh saying “It all seems rather- silly” – shows Sheriffs view of war is that its pointless

§         Shows the enemy in a more compassionate view than other texts written at the time as called “German officer” – more personal than just a ‘German’ or the ‘enemy’

§         “Outside the papers” – shows Sheriffs view that the propaganda is all lies and dramatised to make the soldiers seem more heroic. Shows his anger against the establishment for their lies to civilians.


Pg. 58 Act 2, Scene 2 – Hibbert complains of Neuralgia but Stanhope realises he’s trying to escape the attack and persuades him to stay

Hibbert: I don’t care. What does it matter? It’s all so – so beastly – nothing matters –

Stanhope: Supposing the worst happened – supposing were knocked right out. Think of all the chaps who’ve gone already. It can’t be very lonely there – with all those fellows. Sometimes I think it’s lonelier here. Just go and have a quiet rest. Then we’ll go out together.

Hibbert: Do please let me go, Stanhope –

Stanhope: If you went – and left Osborne and Trotter and Raleigh and all those men up there to do your work – could you ever look a man straight in the face again – all your life! You may be wounded. Then toy can go home and feel proud – and if you’re killed you – you wont have to stand this hell any more. I might have fired just now. If I had you would have been dead now. But you’re still alive – with a straight fighting chance of coming through. Take the chance, old chap, and stand in with Osborne and Trotter and Raleigh. Don’t you think it worth standing in with men like that?? – When you know they all feel like you do – in their hearts – and just go on sticking it because they know it’s – it’s the only thing as decent man can do. What about it?

Hibbert: I’ll try – I’ll try –

Stanhope: Good man!

Hibbert: You promise you won’t say anything, Stanhope – about this?

Stanhope: If you promise not to tell anyone about what a blasted funk I am

Hibbert: [with a little laugh]: No

Stanhope: Splendid! Now go and have ten minutes rest and a smoke 0 then we’ll go up together and hold each others hands – and jump every time a rat squeaks.”


§         “Hold each other’s hands – and jump every time a rat squeaks” humour used here to engage Hibbert and show empathy Stanhope has for him. Patronising and treating him like a child leading Hibbert to a sense of security that Stanhope can protect him – shows comradeship and bond – need each other to get through it

§         “Supposing were knocked right out…It cant be very lonely there – with all those fellows” euphemism for death – comparing it to trench life – death seems more preferable

§         “Could you ever look a man straight in the face again” – Stanhope calling on Hibbert’s sense of duty and pride. Patriotism and duty that has been installed in him being used to keep him in the war

§         “Then you can go home and feel proud” Highlighting how this patriotism is foolish but how you’re a coward if you don’t fight


Author’s treatment of the war/ point of view

R.C.Sheriff based this play on his own experiences of the war. It is considered to be a classic anti-war play. The play is typical of the war experience of a soldier who witnessed the war first-hand however it is atypical in the fact that it doesn’t focus on the terrible conditions of the trenches and a lot of the speech is general trivial things to pass the time. This is in contrast to poets such as Owen and Sassoon who focus on the conditions and the sufferings.




‘Goodbye To All That’ by Robert Graves



Good-bye to All That is the autobiography of Robert Graves. First published in 1929, the work is a landmark anti-war memoir of life in the trenches during World War I. The title expresses Graves’ disillusionment in the existence of traditional, stable values in European and English society. Graves first wrote the work in his thirties, when he had a long and eventful life ahead of him, and the book deals mainly with his childhood, youth and military service.

He devotes a large part of the book to his experiences of the First World War, where he gives a detailed description of trench warfare, including the tragic incompetence of the Battle of Loos. Many readers will be interested in his secondhand description of the killing of German prisoners of war by British, Canadian and Australian troops. Although he had not witnessed any incidents himself and knew of no large-scale massacres, he knew of a number of incidents where prisoners had been killed individually or in small groups, and he believed that a large proportion of Germans who surrendered never made it to prisoner-of-war camps. Many readers will also be interested in the differing opinions of the soldiers commented upon throughout the book, from those who simply decide to ‘get on with it’ to the others who find it as deeply immoral and pointless.

Graves was severely traumatized by his war experience. After he was wounded, he endured a five day train journey amid squalor and unchanged bandages. The trench telephone scared him such that he never lived with the technology for the rest of his life (he received an electric shock because the line was struck by lightning). Upon his return home, he describes being haunted by ghosts and nightmares.

Graves heavily revised his book and re-published it in 1957 with many significant events and figures either excised or added.


Chapter 13, Page 100:

“A corpse is lying on the fire-step waiting to be taken down to the grave-yard tonight: a sanitary-man, killed last night in the open while burying lavatory stuff between our front and support lines. His arm stretched out stiff when they carried him in and laid him on the fire-step; it stretched right out across the trench. His comrades joke as they push it out of the way to get by. ‘Out of the light, you old bastard! Do you own this bloody trench?’ Or else they shake hands with him familiarly. ‘Put it there, Billy Boy.’ Of course, they’re miners, and accustomed to death. They have a very limited morality, but they keep to it. It’s moral, for instance, to rob anyone of anything, except a man in their own platoon. They treat every stranger as an enemy until he proves himself their friend, and then there’s nothing they won’t do for him. They are lecherous, the young ones at least, but without the false shame of the English lecher. I had a letter to censor the other day, written by a lance-corporal to his wid. He said that the French girls were nice to sleep with, so she mustn’t worry on his account, but that he far preferred sleeping with her and missed her a great deal.”


·          No urgency in the burying of the dead, simply ‘lying on the fire-step’, ‘waiting’. Shows the great lack of compassion the men have, now further into the war, for the men who have died, as though they are ‘used to it’.

·          Graves uses very plain, simple language in describing the dead man’s body. Describes it as he sees it as opposed to using metaphors or imagery to heighten the horrors of the way this man was killed, as seen in Owen’s poetry and other war literature.

·          Comedy is created by the way the ‘comrades joke’ about the dead man. Shows greatly the lack of compassion of the men and the complacency the men have as they are ‘so used to death’. Graves uses many light-hearted anecdotes throughout his book to highlight the high spirits of the men earlier on in the war.

·          Even in wartime the men still keep to their ‘morality’ and their moral code, something which is opposed in much war literature, in Owen’s poetry for instance where the men’s moral code is said to have diminished at the hands of the war.

·          The obsession with ‘the enemy’ is a common theme in much war literature, showing perhaps an influence the propaganda has on the soldiers to constantly be suspicious and on guard against the force that is ‘the enemy’.


Chapter 20, Page 188:

“The next day, at dinnertime, very heavy shelling started: shells bracketed along the trench about five yards short and five yards over, but never quite got it. Three times running, my cup of tea was spilled by the concussion and filled with dirt. I happened to be in a cheerful mood and just laughed. My parcel of kippers from home seemed far more important than any bombardment – I recalled with appreciation one of my mother’s sayings: ‘Children, remember this when you eat your kippers; kippers are cheap yet if they cost a hundred guineas each they would still find buyers among the millionaires.’ A tame magpie had come into the trench; apparently belonging to the Germans driven out of the village by the Gordon Highlanders a day or two before. It looked very bedraggled. ‘That’s one for sorrow,’ I said. The men swore that it made some remark in German as it joined us, and talked of wringing its neck.


·          Shows Graves to be far more concerned with his ‘cup of tea’ that had ‘spilled’ than the bombardment going on about him, presenting men’s complacency later on in the war as they lose morale and spirit; their complacency and lack of care being a common theme in war literature.

·          The same theme again is brought up with his ‘kippers’, where Graves is far more concerned with something as meaningless as kippers when his life could possibly be in danger.

·          Graves’ constant change of subject is apparent through most of the book, and could perhaps portray the effects the war had on his mind as it is said that he was a sufferer of a mild form of neurasthenia, and this constant flitting in his mind from subject to subject could be a symptom of this.

·          Graves shows the men to be consumed by violence; war seems to have infiltrated into their minds and filtered through their thoughts, ‘wringing the neck’ of a seemingly innocent magpie as they thought it ‘made some remark in German’. This also brings up the theme of the obsession of the men with ‘the enemy’, linking to the influence of propaganda, in needing to destroy anything vaguely ‘German’ about them.



Author’s treatment of the war/Point of View

The book, ‘Goodbye to All That’ is an autobiographical account of Robert Graves’ experiences in the war, written as a memoir either whilst in the trenches or afterwards reflecting back on his experiences. The book is very atypical to some extent, of much of the war literature we have studied, as it includes more quirky comedic anecdotes, diagrams, tables and plans he had been given for different battles of the war which he had kept, and more of the mundane life in the trenches, commenting much on his relationships with certain soldiers and the what he did in his day-to-day life, than debating on the meaninglessness of what he was doing. This is much opposed to a lot of the war literature we’ve read written after the war, combating ideas of morality, mortality, and the point of the war as a whole. However, I believe the book is also typical of much of the war literature of this time in it’s particular style, for example it is very much compared to ‘Memoirs of an Infantry Officer’ by Sassoon (who was Graves’ best friend!) and ‘Old Soldiers Never Die’ by Frank Richards who focus in the same way on the daily life of trench warfare as opposed to the futility of war and ideas of mortality. 






A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry


A Long Long Way is about a young man called William Dunne. His story, like many others began in Dublin in 1915 when he volunteered to fight for his country. The story follows him throughout the war as it describes the horrific experiences of death, loss and betrayal. At the beginning, William holds the view of many about the pre-Somme war and thinks of war as honourable and full of glory, but as the novel progresses to post Somme, he sees the pessimistic reality and the pointlessness of the war like Owen and Sassoon.
        Alongside the war in
France, there is a constant reminder of the war being fought in Ireland, Dublin for home rule. When in the trenches Willie reads that the leaders were executed and his views on this differ from those of his father’s who was too old to fight in Belgium but was in charge of keeping the situation under control in a small town in Dublin
. This almost severs the relationship between him and that of his two eldest sisters. He also found out that he had been betrayed by one of his closest comrades and resulting in the loss his lover to another man.
         Through out the war he makes many comrades but most of them are killed and in 1918 William is one of the only soldiers left from his original regiment. At the end of the novel, William is killed in the dark on the
Flanders battlefield by a stray German 39 days before the end of the war.


The gas boiled in like a familiar ogre. With the same stately gracelessness it rolled to the edge of the parapet and then like the heads of a many-headed creature it toppled gently forward and sank down to join the waiting men. These excellent gas masks instantly lost their excellence for Private Quigley, who at any rate had failed to fit it on his crooked face. One size fitted all, but he had a wondrous cabbage head, and the straps would not lie down. Father Buckley rushed to help, and Quigley now was spluttering and coughing, and started to tear off the mask. Father Buckley was signalling wildly for him to do the bloody opposite. Now two other men at the other end of the trench were having trouble likewise and behind their masks were coughing and no doubt going as red as ripe apples in good august.
       The evil gas lay down in the trench like a bedspread, and as more gas came over, it filled the trench to the brim and passed on then in its ghostly hordes to the support lines and then the reserve lines, ambitious for choice murders. Quigley had fallen down on the mucky ground and was writhing there like a python snake, the mask was off, and his wide eyes were black tones in a beetroot face. He was screaming between the choking. He was calling out and when he opened his mouth Willie could almost taste himself the awful gas that rushed gratefully in. and pity struck him. Yes, in the midst of all, pity struck him for the thousandth time, and he was almost grateful for the pity. Father Buckley was in a paroxysm of helping and disquiet as if his own child were being horribly tormented. At least six lads were now entirely blinded and Captain Sheridan moved them roughly back to the parados side of the trench, and went from man to man remaining swiftly, to try to steady the group


-The simile comparing the poisoned soldier with “ripe apples” shows the corruption of the war as ripe is supposed to mean ‘in the prime’ but here it is used to describe a horrible death.
-Eyes represent identity as in Regeneration but these are just “black”. Barry does this to show the loss of identity of the soldiers.
-Barry mocks the propaganda “one size fitted all”. This has sarcastic undertones with is typical of both wartime literature and recent literature about the war
-The rough treatment of the dying in this extract is similar to the treatment of the soldiers in The Dead Beat and makes these men seem inhumane.
– Also the character felt grateful for the pity because it showed that he was still human This is also explored by many writers after the war.


Silent night, holy night. The song of that first, far-off friendly Christmas truce in ’14. It was not a night that was holy. Or was it? The voice was as simple as the river, it seemed to Willie. It came from the throat of a man who might have seen horrors, made horrors befall the opposing armies. There was something of the end of the world, or rather, he meant, the end of the war in the song. The end of the world. The end of many worlds. Silent night, holy night. And indeed the shepherds were in their hut and their flocks were scattered round about in these lovely woods. The sheep lay down in the darkness fearful of the wolves. But were their any wolves in the upshot? Or just sheep against sheep? Silent night, holy night. Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. Heilige, holy, a word he had not looked at in his mind since Father Buckley was taken. Holy. Could they not all be holy? Could God not reach down and touch their faces, explain to them the meaning of their travails, the purpose of their long sojourn, the journey out to a foreign land that became a sitting still among horrors? So far, so far they had come that they had walked right out to the edge of the known world and had fallen off into other realms entirely in the thunder and ruckus of the falls. There was no road back along the road they had taken. He had no country, he was an orphan, he was alone.
    So he lifted up his voice and sang back to his enemy, the strange enemy that lay unseen. They shared a tune, that was still true. A single shot marked its own note in the easy dark, hushing the busy owl.


-The constant questioning emphasise the confusion of the William Dunne and this confusion of the soldiers post-Somme is very typical of wartime writing.
-The shepherds in the extract are representations of the establishment. It implies that they are just sitting in their homes enjoying their lives while the soldiers “sheep” are fighting for their lives. This has the same bitter undertones as some of the imagery for the establishment in Owen’s poetry.
-The Questioning of religion is atypical of recent war literature but typical of literature after the Somme
-Barry equates the enemy with the allied soldiers through the metaphor of the sheep “ Or just sheep against sheep?”. This is Typical in some recent war literature.
-“fallen off” the world implies that they are no longer human, dehumanisation being typical of literature written both in wartime and after the war.


     Barry tries to make the reader understand through the character of William Dunne the harsh conditions of the trenches, the terrifying reality of the battles, and that most of the soldiers in one way or another lost everything they had because of the war.
      Sebastian Barry explores with viewpoints of the soldiers both pre, and post
, In the beginning, like in The Volunteer and Into Battle, war is portrayed as glorious and morale of the soldiers is high and the most honourable death is dying for your country. However as the novel progresses, we see a difference in the characters view and he starts to take on similar views to those of Owen and Sassoon and the style and imagery in the novel are similar to that written by men like these in the wartime.
      The novel is both atypical and typical of recent war writings because at the beginning again, it takes on the view of the early war poets in that the enemy must be crushed, but in the end, the character realizes that they are the same and the author equates the two.



Strange Meeting




After a short period of sick leave, where his family are blind to the horrors of the trenches, Officer John Hilliard is glad to return to France, where he finds that many of the men he knew have been killed. While waiting in a rest camp at Percelle, he becomes close friends with a new officer, David Barton, who is charming, friendly and as yet unaffected by the horrors of the trenches. They are called to the front line at Feuvry, and the novel follows Hilliard and Barton’s relationship and their experiences of life, and death, in the trenches. As times passes, Barton, with the help of Hilliard, comes fully to terms with the realities of trench warfare, and as this happens, the nature of their relationship undergoes subtle shifts. News comes that they are going over the top. During the advance, Barton is killed and Hilliard is injured, later having his leg amputated. The novel ends upon his return to England, going to visit Barton’s family. The novel explores in some depth the futility and meaninglessness of the war, however, the author wishes it to be “not thought of only as a novel whose ‘subject is war and the pity of war’, for, more than anything else, it is about human love.”




Pg. 72 – John Hilliard and David Barton witness a dead pilot in a crashed German plane in the field behind the battalion’s rest camp in France

“’We shall have to report it,’ he said. He had a sudden feeling of acute reality, he was back, now, in the world where such things happened, were normal. This was the first dead man he had seen since his return from France and there would now only be all the rest who were to follow. He felt the odd, heavy sensation in his stomach, misery and fear and anger, compounded but also slightly deadened.

            But he was used to it. Barton was not. Glancing at his face now, Hilliard recognised in another what he himself had known, the first time he saw a corpse in France. There were only a limited number of responses he could make. He remembered the one that the Sergeant who was leading him up the trench they called Pall Mall had made, when they came upon a heap of perhaps forty bodies piled up together, bloated and black, unburied for weeks, for this part of the line had been particularly bad, there had been a large number of casualties and no time to do anything about them.

            He had said, ‘Mind your feet sir.’

Perhaps Barton was being broken in gently, after all. He did not look as if he thought so. His face had not gone paler but more darkly flushed under the already sunburned skin; he said nothing. Hilliard thought that he would do anything now, anything at all, for him not to have to go, not to see any more of it: he was almost beside himself in a rush of dread on Barton’s behalf.”



v           “the world where such things happened, were normal” – perpetual danger, shows the complete contrast to life back home, where things are trivial and safe.

v           “all the rest who were to follow” – highlighting the futility of the war and the sheer scale of killing, men slaughtered like cattle with no regard for individuals.

v           “‘Mind your feet sir’ – callous, the hardening, dehumanising effect of war, the way it causes loss of ability to feel emotion for the dead due to the sheer numbers.

v           “a rush of dread on Barton’s behalf” – comradeship and love, this is the good that men are capable of, highlights the despair and destruction of the war.

v           “slightly deadened” –




Pg. 127 Conversation between John Hilliard and David Barton –


“Hilliard said, ‘But you haven’t forgotten either. You haven’t stopped feeling. You have just told me as much.’

            ‘That boy…’

            ‘You can’t feel every man’s death completely and all of the time, David, you simply cannot.’

            ‘Every man’s death diminishes me.’

            ‘Yes. So you have just told me the truth, haven’t you?’

            ‘Have I?’

            ‘That you are diminished and know as much. And you are changed. And ashamed. That you feel it. Some people would scarcely have noticed how many men were killed, they’ve gone past it, it’s all become part of the day’s work.’

            ‘That was how I felt.’

            ‘No, you didn’t, not really. Shock does strange things, you should know that. Some men do not even suffer shock.’

            ‘What kind of men are those?’

            ‘Precisely. But all the same, you know as well as I do that if you are here and doing this job, you have to shove things out of the way all the time. We’d never carry on at all other-wise.’

            ‘Then I wonder if we ought to “carry on at all”?’”











All Quiet on the Western Front- Erich Maria Remarque





(First published under the name “Im Western Nichts Neues” in 1929.)


     All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel about a young German man named Paul Bäumer. Bäumer is the narrator and main character of the novel who describes typical day-to-day life on the front and the different events that he and his fellow comrades endure. He has several best friends throughout the novel, four of whom were in the same class at school as Bäumer when they were persuaded to join the army at the age of nineteen to be ‘young men or iron’ by their old form-master Kantorek. Bäumer describes the brutality and discipline of their power-hungry corporal Himmelstoss who enjoys punishing them for minor infractions and when home on leave, Baumer described the careless and emotionless attitude of the civilians at home and longs to be back on the front where he feels he belongs. Bäumer and his friends briefly discuss any possible justification of the war, however none is found.

     At the beginning of summer, Bäumer’s company had 150 men, whereas by the end of autumn, there were only 32. Towards the end of the novel, Bäumer’s best friends, including his best friend Katczinsky, all die apart from two and one runs away back to Germany where he is court-martialled. It is the death of Katczinsky that makes Baumer realise that he no longer cares if he is killed or not. The reader is left to draw the conclusion that Bäumer dies at the age of 20 in October 1918.



    Extract 1– chapter 1, page 8.

(Kantorek, the boy’s form-master at school persuaded the young men, who were around 18 or 19 years old, to sign into the army.)

     In fact, one of our class was reluctant, and didn’t really want to go with us. That was Josef Behm, a tubby, cheerful chap. But in the end he let himself be persuaded, because he would have made things impossible for himself by not going. Maybe others felt the same way as he did; but it wasn’t easy to stay out of it because at that time even our parents used the word ‘coward’ at the drop of a hat. People simply didn’t have the slightest idea of what was coming.

     Oddly enough, Behm was one of the first to be killed. He was shot in the eye during an attack, and we left him for dead. We couldn’t take him with us because we had to get back in a great rush ourselves. That afternoon we suddenly heard him shout out and saw his crawling around in no man’s land. He had only been knocked unconscious. Because he couldn’t see and was mad with pain he didn’t take cover, so he was shot down from the other side before anyone could get out to fetch him.

     That can’t be linked directly with Kantorek, of course- where would we be if that counted as actual guilt? Anyway, there were thousands of Kantoreks, all of them convinced that they were acting for the best, in the way that was the most comfortable for themselves.

     But as far as we were concerned, that is the very root of their moral bankruptcy.


he let himself be persuaded– gave into pressure but was one of the first to be killed.

parents used the word ‘coward’ at the drop of a hat– highlights the difference between younger and older generation.

and we left him for dead- lack of emotion or sorrow. Quite blunt words at the end of the sentence as though reducing its importance.

there were thousands of Kantoreks- all have the same opinion, older, middle-class citizens.


Extract 2– chapter 9, page 114.

(Bäumer and his friends are in the dug-out discussing why a war starts.)

‘It’s funny when you think about it,’ continues Kropp. ‘We’re out here defending our homeland. And yet the French are defending their homeland as well. Which of us is right?’

‘Maybe both,’ I say, although I don’t believe it.

‘Well then,’ says Albert, and I can see that he is trying to drive me into a corner, ‘our teachers and preachers and newspapers all tell us that we are the only ones with right on our side, and let’s hope it’s true- but all the French teachers and preachers and newspapers all insist that they are the only ones in the right. How does that figure?’

‘I don’t know,’ I reply, ‘but at any rate there is a war and every month more countries want to take part’.

‘How does a war start anyway?’ asks Tjaden.

‘Usually when one country insults another one badly’ answers Kropp, a little patronizingly.

But Tjaden isn’t going to be put off. ‘A country? I don’t get it. A German mountain can’t insult a French mountain, or a river, or a forest, or a cornfield.’

‘Are you really that daft or are you just pretending?’ grumbles Kropp. ‘This isn’t what I mean. One nation insults another…’

‘Then I shouldn’t be here at all,’ answers Tjaden, ‘because I don’t feel insulted.’



‘Which of us is right?’- questioning things that he does not understand. The people having this conversation are young men and don’t come to any solid conclusions.

but all the French teachers and preachers and newspapers all insist that they are the only ones in the right.- acknowledging the ‘enemy’. Baumer rarely refers to them as the enemy but as ‘the others’ and ‘those over there’.

‘How does a war start anyway?’- questioning the war.

 ‘because I don’t feel insulted.’- the individual soldier has no particular reason to fight, it is due to higher powers that the war has started.













Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf




Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway follows Clarissa Dalloway and those whose lives brush hers – from Peter Walsh, whom she spurned years ago, to her daughter Elizabeth, the girl’s angry teacher, Doris Kilman, and war-shocked Septimus Warren Smith, who is sinking into madness.

Ostensibly a book about Mrs Dalloway, it is also a book about that period, the years directly following the Great War, when Britain, or more specifically London, was getting on with life. Of course, the war must cast a pretty substantial shadow over any book written in this period in Britain, but apart from the insanity of Septimus Warren Smith, London life seems remarkably unaffected. So it could be imagined that Woolf is implicitly critiquing the attitude of civilians towards the war, or perhaps raising the idea that, in order to move on with life, the War and its casualties, both physical and mental, needed to be forgotten.

As Mrs. Dalloway prepares for a party she is giving that evening, a series of events intrudes on her composure. As Septimus Warren Smith catapults desperately into his delusions, his suicide gently brushes against her life as the good wife of a serving MP. Although Warren Smith’s troubles form a tangent to Clarissa’s web, they undeniably touch it, and the strands connecting all of the characters in the story draw tighter as evening deepens.

As she immerses us in each inner life, Virginia Woolf offers exquisite, painful images of the past bleeding into the present, of desire overwhelmed by society’s demands – one of which is to forget.


Extract 1:


Septimus was one of the first to volunteer. He went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare’s plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square. There in the trenches the change which Mr. Brewer desired when he advised football was produced instantly; he developed manliness; he was promoted; he drew the attention, indeed the affection of his officer, Evans by name. It was a case of two dogs playing on a hearth-rug; one worrying a paper screw, snarling, snapping, giving a pinch, now and then, at the old dog’s ear; the other lying somnolent, blinking at the fire, raising a paw, turning and growling good-temperedly. They had to be together, share with each other, fight with each other, quarrel with each other. But when Evans (Rezia who had only seen him once called him “a quiet man,” a sturdy red-haired man, undemonstrative in the company of women), when Evans was killed, just before the Armistice, in Italy, Septimus, far from showing any emotion or recognising that here was the end of a friendship, congratulated himself upon feeling very little and very reasonably. The War had taught him. It was sublime. He had gone through the whole show, friendship, European War, death, had won promotion, was still under thirty and was bound to survive. He was right there. The last shells missed him. He watched them explode with indifference. When peace came he was in Milan, billeted in the house of an innkeeper with a courtyard, flowers in tubs, little tables in the open, daughters making hats, and to Lucrezia, the younger daughter, he became engaged one evening when the panic was on him—that he could not feel.

So there was no excuse; nothing whatever the matter, except the sin for which human nature had condemned him to death; that he did not feel. He had not cared when Evans was killed; that was worst; but all the other crimes raised their heads and shook their fingers and jeered and sneered over the rail of the bed in the early hours of the morning at the prostrate body which lay realising its degradation; how he had married his wife without loving her; had lied to her; seduced her; outraged Miss Isabel Pole, and was so pocked and marked with vice that women shuddered when they saw him in the street. The verdict of human nature on such a wretch was death.









Extract 2:


Sir William himself was no longer young. He had worked very hard; he had won his position by sheer ability (being the son of a shopkeeper); loved his profession; made a fine figurehead at ceremonies and spoke well—all of which had by the time he was knighted given him a heavy look, a weary look (the stream of patients being so incessant, the responsibilities and privileges of his profession so onerous), which weariness, together with his grey hairs, increased the extraordinary distinction of his presence and gave him the reputation (of the utmost importance in dealing with nerve cases) not merely of lightning skill, and almost infallible accuracy in diagnosis but of sympathy; tact; understanding of the human soul. He could see the first moment they came into the room (the Warren Smiths they were called); he was certain directly he saw the man; it was a case of extreme gravity. It was a case of complete breakdown—complete physical and nervous breakdown, with every symptom in an advanced stage, he ascertained in two or three minutes (writing answers to questions, murmured discreetly, on a pink card).

How long had Dr. Holmes been attending him?

Six weeks.

Prescribed a little bromide? Said there was nothing the matter? Ah yes (those general practitioners! thought Sir William. It took half his time to undo their blunders. Some were irreparable).

“You served with great distinction in the War?”

The patient repeated the word “war” interrogatively.

He was attaching meanings to words of a symbolical kind. A serious symptom, to be noted on the card.

“The War?” the patient asked. The European War—that little shindy of schoolboys with gunpowder? Had he served with distinction? He really forgot. In the War itself he had failed.

“Yes, he served with the greatest distinction,” Rezia assured the doctor; “he was promoted.”












Author’s treatment of the war / point of view



Testament of Youth

An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925

By Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth is the story of the war told by the other side of the “accursed generation”, first published in 1933. Vera Brittain, only 18 at the beginning of the war, tells the often unheard version of events from behind the Home Front, giving a voice to the unheard tales of the sufferings that happened at home rather than the better known ones of France. The book begins when Brittain is a young girl, and illuminates the rigid Victorian style upbringing that most girls had; unfinished education and an expectation of marrying young. When the war starts she has just begun her first term at Oxford, one of the few women students at the time, and her brother and future fiancé follow the call of their country and join up, as do two of their closest friends. Following the same call, Brittain post-pones the continuation of her education and joins the army as a hospital V.A.D, which takes her to Malta and France.

Throughout the book, Brittain writes about the horrors and tragedies that she sees in the hospitals and experiences in her life because of the war in tragic simplicity. She tells the reader of the loss of her fiancé just before Christmas, “Tah” and “George”, and finally her only brother a few months before Armistice. Rather than paint the Germans as the enemy, Brittain paints a sympathetic portrayal of more young men who suffer from the war as much as our own men did.

After the war is over, and Brittain finishes her degree at Oxford (one of the first women to gain an official university degree), she begins her career as a novelist and lecturer, aiding the newly founded League of Nations in setting down roots in the European community. Travelling Europe periodically, she sees the damage that the war did to the rest of the continent and how suppressed the Germans are because of their defeat. Finally, she marries at the age of 30, moving to America for a year and accepting that the ghosts of her past are just ghosts for all that she still loves them.

 Extract 1

Chapter 7 part 4

A letter from her uncle whilst V.B was nursing in Imtarfa, Malta

“I am getting more and more ashamed of my civilian togs,” he wrote unhappily to me about the beginning of 1917, “and I shrink from meeting or speaking to soldiers or soldiers’ relatives, and to take an ordinary walk on a Sunday is abominable. I cannot do anything to alter matters, for even if I walked out of the bank and joined up, I should in all probability be fetched back at once, as the Government are now making entirely their own decision as to which of us go and which stay, but the net result is real misery and the contemplation of the future if one has to confess never to have fought at all is altogether impossible.”

Though the future was to prove so much more indifferent to war records than my uncle imagines, such letters as his -which must have been reduplicated hundreds of times- do suggest that the men officially tied to civilian posts should either have been allowed to wear military uniform, or else have been enlisted into a recognised corps with a uniform of its own. Only a gross failure of psychological understanding in high places compelled men who were working themselves to death by simultaneously working two or three full-time jobs to wear garments which in popular opinion branded them as “shirkers” while “dugouts” engaged upon very light and safe garrison duty were eulogised as heroes. The War cost my uncle his life as surely as if he had been in the trenches, yet, far from sharing in the “glory” of sacrifice, he was not permitted even to discard the trappings which brought him humiliation.

1) “Ashamed of my civilian togs”– Not all men who didn’t fight were conscientious objectors. Those who had no real choice were often unhappy about not being able to fight and to still be wearing “civvies”.

2) “even if I walked out of the bank and joined up, I should in all probability be fetched back at once”– Her uncle truly didn’t have the option of fighting, even if he’d forced the issue. Helplessness.

3) “a gross failure of psychological understanding”– The government didn’t understand the impact their decisions would have on the civilians. “Gross” makes it sound horrendous and foul, possibly even an illness? Underlines the mental and social pressure those in “important” jobs felt from those around them and themselves because they weren’t in uniform.

4) “garments which in popular opinion branded them as “shirkers””-*

5) ““dugouts” engaged upon very light and safe garrison duty were eulogised as heroes”-* This is how judgmental the public of the time were, giving no allowances to those who had no choice and glorifying those who had even the most menial of army positions, making the men who couldn’t join up feel sub par.

6) “The War cost my uncle his life as surely as if he had been in the trenches”– bald statement of fact. V.B gives her uncle his lost glory in her book by writing about him and placing his death and sacrifice with that of the soldiers in the trenches.

Extract 2

Chapter 8 part 3

Set in a Red Cross hospital in Étaples, France. The ward V.B was working in was the prisoner’s.

The desire for “heaps to do and no time to think” that I had expressed at Devonshire House was certainly being fulfilled, thought I still think occasionally, and more especially, perhaps, when I was nursing the German officers, who seemed more bitterly conscious of their position as prisoners than the men. There were about half a dozen of these officers, separated by a green curtain from the rest of the ward, and I found their punctilious manner of accepting my ministrations disconcerting long after I had grown accustomed to the other patients.

One tall, bearded captain would invariably stand to attention when I had re-bandaged his arm, click his spurred heels together, and bow with ceremonious gravity. Another badly wounded boy -a Prussian lieutenant who was being transferred to England- held out an emaciated hand to me as he lay on the stretcher waiting to go, and murmured: “I tank you, Sister.” After barely a second’s hesitation I took the pale fingers in mine, thinking how ridiculous it was that I should be holding this man’s hand in friendship when perhaps, only a week or two earlier, Edward up at Ypres had been doing his best to kill him. The world was mad and we were all victims; that was the only way to look at it. These shattered, dying boys and I were paying alike for a situation that none of us had desired or done anything to bring about.

1) “bitterly conscious of their position as prisoners”- Despite her telling the other side of the story, there’s still the concept that officers understand more/are more complex than the lower ranks (see Regeneration about dreams of officers)

2) “One tall, bearded captain would invariably stand to attention when I re- bandaged his arm”– The army was so drilled into all soldiers, even the Germans, that even in pain they were still on attention, still in the military.

3) “emaciated hand”– Emphasises how ill the soldiers in the hospitals were and possibly also shows how bad trench living conditions were for both sides of the battle. “Emaciated” envisions how thin and weak this boy was.

4) “The world was mad and we were all victims”– Realisation, understanding of the situation in a different way from the one that propaganda would have wanted them to see it. “The world was mad” gives the impression that it was out of human hands, not our species’ fault. We were the “victims” not the perpetrators.

5) “These shattered, dying boys and I were paying alike for a situation that none of us had desired or done anything to bring about”– “shattered, dying boys” is poignant because we see the “enemy”, the soldiers, in a sympathetic light, individualising them and in a way RE-humanising them rather than dehumanising them as we often see in poetry and work from around the time of WW1. None of them had asked for war; gives idea of the nations paying for victory in young blood “paying alike for a situation that none of us had desired”. Literally like a sacrifice given by the older generations?

 Vera Brittain was a pacifist in the Great War and in the Second World War. Her book is not typical of its time, as it was written by a woman, full of anti- war sentiment and shows how life was for the civilian and for the V.A.D. She had active war experience throughout 1915-1918 so she knew what it was like to see young men torn apart literally and mentally, therefore it is not a book written by a civilian who would have no true understanding of the war, but nor is it a book by a soldier who experienced the Front Line.



‘Storm of Steel’, Ernst Junger


‘Storm of Steel’ is a memoir of a German officer, Ernst Junger who faught on the Western Front during World War One. The memoir was published in 1920, but Junger first started to fight as a private in 1915, and later defends the village of Guillemont during the Battle of the Somme.In this defence his entire platoon were killed but Junger continued to fight in various battles such as the Battle of Arras and the Battle of Cambrai. By the end of the memoir, Junger recieves the ‘Iron Cross 1st Class’ and was the youngest ever reicpient of the Pour le Merite (the Kingdom of Prussia’s highest military order until the end of World War I.) On a whole, the book is very graphic, however, Junger always portrays the noble bravery of his soldiers and himself. In the preface Ernst Junger stated “Time only strengthens my conviction that it was a good and strenuous life, and that the war, for all its destructiveness, was an incomparable schooling of the heart.” There have been eight revisions of this memoir, each becoming less nationalistic and bloodythirsty, but on a whole the memoir is typical of the time when describing the pre-expectations, and suggesting that although there were doubts, there was a good reason to fight.

Extract A

          On that same say I lost two men from my platoon, wounded as they went around the village: Hasselmann had a bullet through the arm, whilt Maschmeier caught a shrapnel ball though the throat.

          There was no attack that night; even so, the regiment lost another twenty-five dead and a great many wounded. On the 15th and 17th, we had further gas attacks to endure. On the 17th, we were relieved and twice sufferent heavy bobardment in Douchy. One of them came just as we were having an officer’s metting with Major von Jarotzky in an orchard. It was dangerous, but it was still ridiculous to watch the company suddenly burst apart, fall on their faces, forces their way through hedges in an absolute trice, and disapprear under various cover before you could count to ten. A shell falling in the garden of my lodging killed a little girl who had been digging around for rubbish in a pit.

          On 20 July we moved back up. On the 28th, I arranged with Ensign Wohlgemut and Privates Bartels and Birkner to go on another one of our patrols. We had nothing more in mind than to wander around between the lines and see what was new in no man’s lans, because we were getting bored with the trench. In the afternoon, Lieutenant Brauns, the officer in the the 6th company who was relieving me, paid me a call in my dugout, bringing a fine Burgandy with him. Towards midnight we broke up; I went into the trench, where my three companions were already assembled in the lee of a traverse. After I’d picked out a fer bombs that looked dry and in working order, I climbed over the wire in a high good humour, and Brauns called out a jovial: ‘Break a leg!’ after me.

1.     Maschmeier caught a shrapnel ball though the throat.   Horror potrayed through the bluntess of his descriptions of a horrific image as well as his detatchment and lack of emotion even though they were both members of the same platoon.

2.     the regiment lost another twenty-five dead, This shows the extent of danger and enhanced sense of mortality in the war as even without the a main attack, people were killed and injured

3.     It was dangerous, but it was still ridiculous to watch the company suddenly burst apart, fall on their faces,  Understatement with the word ridiculous but also emphasises that Junger is used to the war and horrors, also suggest pointlessness of war. The imagery is graphic but again detatched reinforcing the hardening and dehumanisation of the men.

4.      A shell falling in the garden of my lodging killed a little girl who had been digging around for rubbish in a pit.  Emphasises the horrors of the war affecting everyone, even the innocent girl, and again the war had numbed his emotional response to this disgusting situation

5.     On 20 July we moved back up. On the 28th; ,  Reminds us tha this is is a memoir, very precise and also provides Junger with the ability to detactch himself and focus on the actions more than the emotions

6.     see what was new in no man’s lans, because we were getting bored with the trench. Blasé tone emphasises the soldier’s ability to adapt to horrific situations as well as their detatchment from the war

7.     I climbed over the wire in a high good humour, and Brauns called out a jovial: ‘Break a leg!’ after me.  Does not always focus on the horrors of war, lighthearted tone reminds us that the men had good relationships and not all of the war was horror

Extract B

The breath of battle blew across to us, and we shuddered. Did we sense that almost all of us – some sooner, some later – were to be consumed by it, on days when the dark grumbling yonder would crash overour heads like an incessant thunder?

We had come from lecture halls, shoocl desks and factory workbenches, and over the brief weeks of training, Grown up in an age of security, we shared a yearning for danger, for the experience of the extraordinary. We were enraptured by war. We had set out in a rain of flowrs, in a drunken atmosphere of blood and roses. Surely the war had to supply us with what we wanted;the great, the overwhelming, the hallowed experience. We thought of it as manly, as action, a merry duelling party on flowered, blood-bedewed meadows. ‘No finer death in all the world than…Anything to partipate, not to have to stay at home!

1.     breath of battle blew across to us, and we shuddered:  suggests expectations of death but the alliteration implies otherwise, also suggestions of no escape, a necessity

2.     Surely the war had to supply us with what we wanted;the great, the overwhelming, the hallowed experience:  Reminds us of the men’s expectations of war, had been somethingthat wasn’t properley experienced and therefore have expectations of honour and glory




With A Machine Gun To Cambrai- George Coppard




‘With A Machine Gun To Cambrai’ is a novel based on the diaries written by George Coppard during his service in the First World War. Writing half a century after the war, Coppard takes on a unique narrative point, combining his attitude as an old retired man with the thoughts and feelings that he recorded as a young boy in the war. The theme of boyhood is prominent throughout this novel because whilst World War One was raging, George Coppard was only just experiencing his own boyhood. He entered the war at the young age of sixteen, showing a strong desire to fight for his country. However, as the war carries him into his adulthood, Coppard’s boyish naivety is lost, and his eyes are open to the reality of war. 


Extract One:


‘Glossing over my childhood, I merely state that in 1914 I was just an ordinary boy of elementary education and slender prospects. Rumours of war broke out and I began to be interested in the Territorials tramping the streets in their big strong boots. Although I seldom saw a newspaper, I knew about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo. News placards screamed out at every street corner and military bands blared out their martial music in the main streets of Croydon. This was too much for me to resist, and as if drawn by a magnet I knew I had to enlist straight away.


I had no fixed ideas of what branch of the army I wanted to join and considered I would be lucky if I was accepted at all. Although weighing over ten stone I was very much a boy in heart and mind. Towards the end of August I presented myself to the recruiting sergeant at Mitcham Road Barracks, Croydon. There was a steady stream of men, mostly working types, queuing up to enlist. The sergeants asked me my age, and when told replied ‘Clear off son. Come back tomorrow and see if you’re nineteen, eh?’ So I turned up the next day and gave my age as nineteen. I attested in a batch of a dozen others and, holding up my right hand, swore to fight for King and Country. The sergeant winked as he gave me the King’s shilling, plus one shilling and ninepence ration money for that day. I believe he also got a shilling for each man he secured as a recruit.’




This extract captures the boyish marvel that Coppard had towards the war. He speaks of the appeal of ‘tramping’ Territorials in their ‘big strong boots’, making them sound like a powerful and masculine force. This is a typical pre-war view, particularly of an innocent young boy who cannot escape the glorified appeal of ‘military bands’ and ‘news placards’.


By saying that he would be ‘lucky’ to enter the war, Coppard is showing the extent of his desire to enter the war. He is elevating the prospect of war here, making it something desirable, with ‘lucky’ suggesting that it is a privilege to be involved.


This glorification is further enhanced with the act of ‘holding up my right hand’ and swearing to fight ‘for King and Country’. This act seems almost like a ritual, giving it a holy status.


There seems something sinister, however, about the description that ‘the sergeant winked’. This creates an air of secrecy, as though something suspicious is going on behind the scenes- perhaps prophetic of the horror to come? An indication that not is as it seems. To Coppard as a young boy, he perhaps would not have picked up on this, however Coppard as an older narrator, and the reader too, will understand the true potential that this wink holds.

This seems clear as Coppard states ‘I believe he also got a shilling’. This shows a level of understanding as an older narrator that he did not hold as a young boy- showing how with age and experience he uncovered the injustices of the war system.


Extract Two:


‘The 12th Division, which had been in the line since the start of the battle on 9 April, had a hard-earned rest due to it, so I was fortunate in rejoining my old unit at that time. Although I had been with the section only a few days I soon fell into the old routine. My sudden plunge into the fighting area again brought back that wind-up feeling under shell-fire, and it was not easy to control. The daily comradeship of my pals, whether in or out of the line, gave me strength. To most of us it was not a matter of patriotism any longer- that had burned itself out long ago. What remained was a silent bonding together of men who knew there was no other way out but to see the thing through. Deep down, too, was an implacable hatred of the Huns, for all the misery and death they had caused. It would have been un-British not to want to settle the score with them.’





In this extract, Coppard seems to have lost his boyish innocence, and at the age of 19 considers himself a man. He is no longer fighting for the glory of being a soldier; rather he is part of a ‘silent bonding together of men’. This suggests an exclusive club to which all soldiers were a member; all were joined in a secret understanding of the pointlessness of war.


This lack of passion for an actual cause to fight for is enhanced by the loss of ‘patriotism’, which had ‘burned itself out long ago’. This piece of lifeless imagery shows how the energy and enthusiasm generated by pre-war propaganda has become lost. 


The burning out of fire and passion is captured in the monotonous tone captured by Coppard. He talks of the ‘old routine’, something that happens ‘daily’. This almost belittles the experience of war, as it is no longer exciting, it has become something dull and commonplace.


There is a sense of claustrophobia with the statement that ‘there was no way out’ other than fighting for the sake of fighting. This contrasts to the opening extract, in which Coppard was a volunteer, thus with a sense of choice and control over his actions. Here, however, Coppard has become trapped by war, with the only direction being forward towards further ‘mysery and death’.


Behind the sense of pointlessness and fatigue from the whole war experience, Coppard does generate a passion against the Germans; he calls it an ‘implacable hatred’. This exposes Coppard’s cruel attitude towards them, placing blame on the Germans for the horrors of war. By fighting in order to ‘settle the score’ with them, he seems to be on a mission for revenge, rather than on a mission to make England a better place.


George Coppard’s attitude towards war:


Throughout ‘With A Machine Gun To Cambrai’, Coppard presents three different attitudes. Firstly, we have the view of the youthful boy, seeking to experience the glory of soldiers. Secondly, we have the view of the experienced soldier during combat, only inspired by a hatred of the enemy and love for his fellow soldiers. Thirdly, we have the attitude that an elder and more mature Coppard leaves us with at the end of his novel. Coppard creates the simile ‘like old soldiers it simply faded away’. This suggests that those who fought are to be forgotten, as a new generation takes over; ‘I realise that we Tommies of the 1914-18 war prepared the way to make life better for those who came after.’



Her Privates We by Frederic Manning



            First published in 1929, Her Privates We is an extraordinary novel of World War 1, written from the point of view of an ordinary soldier. When it first came out, the novel was censored and its language which was considered too crude was cleaned up and the swear words removed – the privates could die but not swear! Since then, an edition has been published in its original version. The informative introduction by William Boyd narrates the history of the book and its author – an Australian who fought as a private in the War. The book is a powerful indictment of the callous attitudes of the officer class.
            The book starts with the central character, Bourne, along with his comrades coming back down the line from battle, and ends with them going back over the top. In between, he recreates the comradeship experienced by a group of men who had to survive in a surreal world where the reason for their being there was beyond their comprehension. Bourne, knows that he is different and better educated than the average soldier, and is comfortable with officer and soldier class alike. He is soon pressured into going for a commission and although not overly keen, he sees that it is inevitable. He decides to go over the top one more time before being sent back for officer training.


First Extract:
            Captain Malet called them to attention a little later; and from the tents, camp-details, cooks, snobs, and a few unfit men, gathered in groups to watch them, with a sympathy genuine enough, but tactfully aloof; for there is a gulf between men just returned from action, and those who have not been in the show as unbridgeable as that between the sober and the drunk. Captain Malet halted his men by the orderly-room tent. There was even a pretence to dress ranks. Then he looked at them, and they at him for a few seconds which seemed long. They were only shadows in the darkness.
            His voice was still pitched low, but they turned almost with the precision of troops on the square, each rifle was struck smartly, the officer saluting; and then the will which bound them together dissolved, the enervated muscles relaxed, and they lurched off to their tents as silent and as dispirited as beaten men. One of the tailors took his pipe out of his mouth and spat on the ground.
            “They can say what they bloody well like,” he said appreciatively, “but we’re a fuckin’ fine mob.”


-“with a sympathy genuine enough, but tactfully aloof”- This tone shows that the soldiers did not appreciate any sympathy offered from those who did not fight, and the word aloof suggests they did not really feel any truth in it as they were too detached from each other.

– “those who have not been in the show”- The description of the war as a “show” shows the effect of propaganda to make war seem like a game or something fun to be a part of.

– “as unbridgeable as that between the sober and the drunk”- This emphasises the distance between those who fought in the war and those who did not, for whatever reason. The use of “the sober and the drunk” helps to highlight how unrelated these men felt, and shows us why they felt they could not understand each other.

– “as silent and as dispirited as beaten men”- Despite not being beaten men, Manning is showing us here the severe lack of enthusiasm for the war, by putting emphasis on the fact that winning or losing didn’t seem to matter anymore, because they had no desire at all to fight anymore.


Extract 2:

            Weeper was ahead when he and Bourne reached the gap in the wire. Starshell after starshell was going up now, and the whole line had woken up. Machine guns were talking; but there was one that would not talk. The rattle of musketry continued, but the mist was kindly to them, and had thickened again. As they got beyond the trammeling, clutching wire, Bourne saw Weeper a couple of paces ahead of him, and what he thought was the last of their party disappearing into the mist about twenty yards away. He was glad to be clear of the wire. Another starshell went up, and they both froze into stillness under its glare. Then they moved again, hurrying for all they were worth. Bourne felt a sense of triumph and escape thrill in him. Anyway the Hun couldn’t see them now. Something kicked him in the upper part of the chest, rending its way through him, and his agonized cry was scarcely audible in the rush of blood from his mouth, as he collapsed and fell.
            Weeper turned his head over his shoulder, listened, stopped, and went back. He found Bourne trying to lift himself; and Bourne spoke, gasping, suffocating.
            “Go on, I’m scuppered.”
            “A’ll not leave thee,” said Weeper.




– “clutching wire”- words like clutching are used in this passage to give the sense of desperation in the soldiers, and help the reader to feel the emotions of the soldiers.

– “they both froze into stillness under its glare”- phrases such as this help to emphasise the horror of these attacks and the soldiers’ reactions to them.

– “his agonized cry was scarcely audible in the rush of blood from his mouth”- this gruesome imagery gives the reader the opportunity to picture the injury more easily and has a more emotional effect on the reader.

– The dialogue at the end of this extract shows the dedication that the soldiers felt to each other, and emphasises the friendship that developed between the comrades during the war.





First published in 1920



W H Downing was born in the year 1893 in Australia. He was a Melbourne law student when the war began, and tried to enlist but was rejected eight times because of his height. He was later accepted by the army and fought on the Western Front. To The Last Ridge reveals the poignant World War 1 memoirs of Downing and is claimed to be the best book about Australians at war.

            Written just after the heat of the battle, this account expresses, in a personal way, the honest truth of a soldier’s experience of the most horrific series of battles ever fought. It is claimed to be ‘The finest and most graphic description of these actions ever written, from the point of view of the serving soldier.’ Unlike other accounts of battle, Downing writes in a direct and disturbing way, about the horrors and heroism. Downing describes the mud, guns, deaths, rats and even the sardonic humour between soldiers regarding war. Sights, sounds and smells are also described in a way that enables the reader to visualise the awful scenes that Downing witnessed every day. The book’s appendix contains thousands of names of every soldier who fought with Downing in the 57th battalion, of whom he dedicates this book, in memory of their sacrifice. As the book states, “He set a fine example to all men who came under his command”.


Extract One

By the Menin Road, Polygon Wood, 26th September 1917. The Third Battle of Ypres.


There were on all sides the groans and the wailing of mangled men. A sergeant ran around his platoon. He saw by the flashes bodies twisted and doubled and still, and dying men with eyeballs protruding and slightly wavering, blowing bubbles of blood from their lips as they breathed. Then the top of his skull was lifted from his forehead by a bullet, as on a hinge, and his body fell on two crouching men, washing them with his blood and brains. We were in the front line, but did not immediately know it. The din was frightful. A man with a blackened face and a shattered arm ran bleeding towards the rear. An officer was seen in flashlights yelling in a corporal’s ear. The answer was unheard. The corporal moved hither and thither, found what men he could, and motioned them forward. We stumbled from shellhole to shellhole by ones and twos with panting breath and shiny faces. One fell writhing. They disappeared in the flickering luminous smoke. The smell of burnt explosive was thick and pungent. Bodies, living and dead, were buried, tossed up, and the torn fragments buried again.


·       “Washing them with his blood and brains”: rather than being purified by being washed with water, the blood shows the corruption of war. It is a constant reminder of the sacrifice of the soldiers.

·       “The din was frightful”: a wish for peace. With everything going on in war this is one of the most frightful things. Usually silence is frightful, implying the distortion of their senses.

·       “They disappeared in the flickering luminous smoke”: this sounds quite magical and ghostly. Owen’s poetry contains ghostly images. Disappeared could be a euphemism of death, but also could just mean that they vanished from their battalion. Either way it sounds like they disappeared unnaturally because luminous smoke has connotations of supernatural power.

·       “buried, tossed up, and the torn fragments buried again”: the whole situation that they are in feels like a continuous cycle. They can never find peace due to the monotonous life they now experience.


Extract Two

Stemming the Rush, 27th March to 15th April 1917


At dawn we were on the famous Hill 104. All day we sat in our potholes, soaked to the skin, foul with mud, unable to rest, for a heavy and continuous barrage played upon us from five in the morning till ten at night, smashing one post after another, killing and mangling the occupants. All night long we marched from point to point, now digging, now fighting for our lives with enemy patrols, now simply getting shelled. Next day we were bombarded again. On the third night we marched and dug and fought, fought and dug and marched, faint with hunger, light-headed for want of sleep. The enemy shelled and shelled. At evening a little cold stew and tepid cocoa reached us. We ate like wolves, for it was three days since some of us had eaten, four since we had slept. One prayed for a wound so that one might rest and be warm.


·      “killing and mangling the occupants”: they are taking away the humanity and dignity of  the enemy by corrupting them. This seems like a blasé attitude towards war as they seem to be getting on with the job they have been told to do.

·      “now simply getting shelled”: the adverb simply implies that it is nothing unfamiliar to them. Therefore it is an understatement.

·      “we marched and dug and fought, fought and dug and marched”: a routine to them now that is prolonged and ‘humdrum’.

·      “One prayed for a wound so that one might rest and be warm”: this could be a euphemism for death being the only comfort to escape the horror. It could also be a ‘cowards’ way of escaping war to hospital.


Author’s View

W H Downing approaches this novel from the viewpoint of the Australian soldiers as his battalion was made up of Australians. Some of his time was spent in the trenches but most of the book talks of the soldiers occupying the towns. He wrote this book straight after the end of the war and he doesn’t romanticise it unlike some writers at that time. He reveals the every day situations experienced by the soldiers, but also includes some memories of his past, which contain a more uplifting and comical lifestyle. He grasps the brutality of war’s reality and involves the reader by describing the corruption of human senses, which are a necessary part of our lives. His style of writing is formal and quite difficult to understand sometimes because it was written in the language of the time and also contains military terminology.


Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks




Birdsong was written in 1993 by the English author Sebastian Faulks, it tells of a man called Stephen Wraysford at different stages of his life both before and during World War I.  The first stage is set before the war in Amiens, France where Stephen Wraysford goes to learn about the manufacturing process at the Azaire’s factory. He stays with the Azaire’s. Stephen and Isabelle (Azaire’s wife) conduct a passionate affair and run away together but Isabelle eventually returns to the family after feeling guilty for leaving René and the children. She becomes pregnant but does not inform Stephen of the pregnancy. We rejoin him some years later as a Lieutenant in the British Army and through his eyes, Faulks tells an incredibly vivid and moving story of the Battle of the Somme and Messines Ridge at Ypres in the following year. During his time in the trenches, we learn of Wraysford’s mental attitude to the war and the guarded comradeship he feels for his friend Captain Michael Weir and the rest of his men. However, his men regard Wraysford as a cold and distant officer. Stephen refuses all offers of leave because he is so committed to carry on fighting.             

His story is paralleled with that of Jack Firebrace, a former miner, employed in the British trenches to listen for the enemy and plant mines under the German trenches. Jack is particularly motivated to fight because of the love he has for his son John back home. Faulks describes how a soldier called Hunt is terrified of going underground as an exploding shell could trap the soldiers underground causing them to suffocate. Stephen is injured in this chapter but survives.     

Stephen feels lonely and writes to Isabelle, feeling that he has no one else that he can express his feelings to. He writes about his fears that he will die. This section of the novel ends with a bombardment leaving many soldiers in No Man’s Land.



Extract one


‘Wraysford. Yes. Here we are. They put him over the wall.’

‘You mean he’s dead?’

‘They didn’t take him to the clearing station. He must have had it. It was only an hour ago. There’s a couple of dozen behind that wall there.’

I’ll say a prayer for him thought Jack: I will at least do my duty as a Christian.

It was twilight. Jack went down a rutted, muddy track to a low stone-built wall behind which was a ploughed field. There were rows of crumpled rags with dark stains. Some faces shone white in the moonlight that was coming up behind a corpse. Some bodies were bloated, bursting their uniforms, some were dismembered; all had a heaviness about them.

            As Jack looked out behind the row of dumped flesh into the furrows of the ploughed field behind, his astonished eyes widened at the sight of a figure he had not previously noticed. Naked except for one boot and a disc round his neck, his body tracked with the marks of dirt and dried blood; Stephen loomed from the half-light towards him. From his lips came dry words, which sounded like, ‘Get me out’.






  • ‘I will at least do my duty as a Christian’ suggests that Jack feels guilty and as though he owes Stephen for preventing him from being court martialled, may feel guilty because he was in charge of leading the way underground, which is where Stephen was injured. Despite everything Jack still believes in god, because his son is still ill.
  • ‘Rows of crumpled rags with dark stains’ men dehumanised and seen as worthless, ‘dark stains’ suggests that the men haven’t even been cleaned before they are buried, and are covered in their own blood.
  • ‘Some were dismembered’ the idea that the men have been emasculated, therefore there is no point in them living any more, everything is pointless. War is solely associated with the male generation if you are ‘dismembered’ you are no longer in that category. 
  • ‘Get me out’ desperate tone, in a living hell – links to idea of being buried alive expressed by Hunt whilst underground.


Extract two


‘All right,’ Jack said. ‘Get me off this thing.’

Evans pulled the wooden support away and helped roll Jack over. They crawled back until they saw lamplight. Weir was half standing in the low tunnel. He clutched his ear, then gestured them to lean against the sidewalls. He began to mouth an explanation but before he could finish there was a roar in the tunnel and a huge ball of earth and rock blew past them. It took four men with it, their heads and limbs blown away and mixed with the rushing soil. Jack, weir and Evans were flattened against the sidewall by the blast and escaped the path of the debris. Jack saw part of Tuner’s face and hair still attached to a piece of skull rolling to a halt where the tunnel narrowed into the section he had been digging. There was an arm with a corporal’s stripe on it near his feet, but most of the men’s bodies had been blown into the moist earth.

Weir said. ‘ Get out before another one goes.’

Back towards the trench someone had already got a fresh lamp down into the darkness.

Jack took Evan’s shoulder. ‘Come on, boy. Come on now.’







  • ‘Their heads and limbs blown away and mixed with the rushing soil’/’been blown into the moist soil’ death so sudden, all miners and work underground, become underground in a matter of seconds ‘moist soil’ suggests that it is very fertile perhaps because it is filled with bodies already and ‘moist’ has conjures images of blood soaked walls.
  • ‘Turner’s face and hair still attached to a piece of skull rolling to a halt’ ‘halt’ finalises the death of Jack’s friend Turner, very personal description and horrific description.
  • ‘An arm with a corporal’s stripe on it near his feet’ reached the rank of corporal and shows the futility of war in the way they are still ranked by their uniform and shows the twin concept of the uniform militaristic, authoritative army with the complete chaos and lack of control they have over the war. Worthless that he is a corporal.










  1. Kate
    May 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Whoever wrote all this… I genuinely love you

  2. Bill
    June 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    I would also include “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, T.E Lawrence

  3. Leonie Loveday
    October 31, 2011 at 1:48 am

    Bereft by Chris Womersley
    Fly Away Peter by David Malouf
    Every war has an ill-defined and pervasive aftermath – sometimes forgotten about after the ‘adventure’ of war.

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