Memoirs & Diaries - War is War - Why He Wrote It

French trench mortar "Many books about the war have been written, and will be written, by ex-officers; but, as all those who served must realise, an officer, of no matter what rank, saw the war from an angle far remote from the view-point of Thomas Atkins.  I will go further and state that a platoon commander, who practically lived with his men, was incapable of appreciating their sufferings and hardships unless he too had been in the ranks.

"In the cause of Truth I have given my literary style - such as it is - a half-holiday, and written these random recollections and impressions much as I would convey them to a friend by word of mouth.  Directly a writer attempts in his best professional manner to describe something that happened to himself he is bound to become impressionistic; and Impressionism and Truth are only half-sisters and scarcely on speaking terms.

"The war had many facets: Bruce Bairnsfather saw Old Bill, and laughed and drew him, and laughed again.  Siegfried Sassoon saw only poor ignorant boys sobbing out their last breath for a cause which they knew nothing about.  Most of us saw these extremes of Comedy and Tragedy, and the means between them.

"If any young man should ask an old soldier, "Was it really like this?" and the old soldier answers, "Yes, it's all true," this book will have served its purpose.  And I shall not mind if the young man exclaims, "What a very unpleasant fellow the author must be!"  Perhaps I am."

Notes by Jon Conquist:
Well, I don't think he was.  There's no question that the book is often bitter and sarcastic, but given the general conditions, who wouldn't be?  He comes across as perceptive, clever, conscientious, and above all, a driven and powerfully descriptive writer.

His memoir contains plenty about the realities of trench warfare, and about the everyday non-battle realities, civilian life in the war zone, the memorable personalities both good and bad, the home front, and the prevailing attitudes, not least his own.  Remarkably, he maintained a solid sense of humour all the way through.

Next - Early Doubts

Photographs courtesy of Photos of the Great War website

Battle Police were military policemen deployed behind an attack to intercept stragglers.

- Did you know?

A M Burrage - War is War