Historical Info for Historical Fiction Readers discussion

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Historical Data > Great War (1914-1918)

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message 1: by Steelwhisper (last edited Sep 12, 2012 02:21AM) (new)

Steelwhisper | 45 comments Adding the best resources about the Great War here. Much recommended are these two memoirs:


Not So Quiet... Stepdaughters of War by Helen Zenna Smith
Not So Quiet...: Stepdaughters of War
The novelised memoir of a female British ambulance driver.

A Soldier's Diary by George Scott Atkinson
A Soldier's Diary
A sapper and officer's war diary, deep insights into the mind of someone brushing shell-shock and holding on.


message 2: by Lindsey (last edited Sep 12, 2012 03:14AM) (new)

Lindsey Brooks | 12 comments For anyone interested in the German point of view I can recommend the following memoirs:


With German Guns Four Years on the Western Front by Herbert Sulzbach

Storm of Steel (Penguin Modern Classics) by Ernst Jünger

For a rare British enlisted man's(rather than officer's)point of view:

With A Machine Gun To Cambrai A Story Of The First World War by George Coppard

For a variety of first hand accounts, letters and diary entries by all of the main antagonists, but mostly British:


On the Western Front Soldier's Stories from France and Flanders by John Laffin

A novel by a Frenchman who fought in the Great War:

Under Fire The Story of a Squad by Henri Barbusse


message 3: by Steelwhisper (last edited Sep 12, 2012 06:37AM) (new)

Steelwhisper | 45 comments I wouldn't exactly recommend anything of Ernst Junger as a generalist German resource. He represents but a very narrow proto-fascist and eugenics-oriented part of the German public. As such he certainly is interesting to read, but to cite him as "the German point of view" is quite tendentious and leads to grave later misunderstandings regarding WWII and its origins.

Much more representative are Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Friedrich's Krieg Dem Kriege and Otto Dix. Der Krieg/The War, which all give you pretty much the same disillusionment with this war that you can witness when reading either those I mention in post #1 or Graves, Sassoon, Lawrence etc..

There are by no means few accounts of the enlisted men by the way. Some of the better books which assemble certain types of accounts of the other ranks are:

Tommy The British Soldier on the Western Front by Richard Holmes, Eye-Deep In Hell Trench Warfare In World War I by John Ellis, Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine, Casualty Figures How Five Men Survived the First World War by Michèle Barrett and Her Privates We by Frederic Manning

Drawing Fire The Diary Of A Great War Soldier And Artist by Len Smith
This is one of the best accounts of an other ranks soldier I came across so far. Len Smith's book is very intimate and insightful.

Old Soldiers Never Die by Charles Hamilton by Frank Richards (Charles Hamilton) is another excellent account of a private, particularly as he served in the same regiment as Sassoon and Graves.


message 4: by Lindsey (new)

Lindsey Brooks | 12 comments I recommended Ernst Junger for his account of his wartime experiences, not his political views.

I would respectfully suggest that compared to the number of memoirs by British and Commonwealth officers, there are relatively few by other ranks.


message 5: by Steelwhisper (new)

Steelwhisper | 45 comments The problem is that his proto-fascist POV pervades this book throughout. There are enough accounts of German soldiers and officers available which don't share his ideology.

He does have a foil among English-language accounts which reads just as tendentious, which is Dawson's The Glory of the Trenches. If you call Junger representative of the German point of view, you'd have to cite Dawson's as the typical British/Canadian one--and I somehow doubt many would agree there.

Curious, I have been coming across about as many memoirs of other ranks as of officers so far. I haven't counted them, as I am slowly reading my way through some 300 memoirs, but so many were of other ranks (which include the NCOs) as to be more than enough to even things out.

I have been specifically looking for officer accounts among the RAMC, for instance, and found less than a handful, yet quite a few more of orderlies, ambulance drivers, nurses, VADs etc.. If you can suggest officer accounts among the RAMC that I have missed, you'd make me happy.

I might eventually make a comprehensive list according to file and rank, but so far I have to say I don't share your impression.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

It seems there is a great deal of misunderstanding in the english speaking world regarding German accounts of the First World War. You can not base your opinion on the few books that are (more or less randomly but probably driven by sales figures), translated into english. To give an idea of the number of books in German, take a look at this site, some 1500 diaries, memoirs, etc. are listed here:
http://www.grensland-docs.nl/brondocu...

For a classification on the degree of authenticity one would like to have a ranking as Norton Cru did for the French accounts, a ranking in five steps, from wartime letters to romanticised novels, but unfortunately there isn't such a thing for German accounts.
I suppose in Germany like in all other countries, there are books pro and contra the war, from officers and other ranks, and from all points of view, depicting the horrors of trench warfare and glorifying the German soldier. But in Germany all books that did not fit in the party ideology were banned. So be careful with books published after lets say 1930.
Ernst Jünger was of course one that fit perfectly well in the ideology, but he was by no means the only one and he can very well represent one of the main streams of his time.
It is not possible to put Remarque's "All quiet" as an opposite to Jüngers first hand account, because Remarque has never been to the front and did not write his personal experience. Although a famous repesentation of the anti-war point of view, his book is pure fiction and should not be used as a ressource for historical fact-finding of the war. In the world outside Germany one is tended to believe that Remarque represents the meaning of the public because his book was a bestseller, but so was Im Stahlgewittern.


message 7: by Steelwhisper (last edited Sep 22, 2012 10:58AM) (new)

Steelwhisper | 45 comments There are indeed quite a few first-hand accounts. I read in the original German language when I can get them in German, the same I read Junger. And I've read enough of them to see that the spread of the reactions to the Great War is not much different on any of the various sides.

Remarque was by the way at the front in 1917 for a short time--according to all information I have--and retired from active service due an injury. That he never was at the front is--well--what? A tall tale? Or why do people still try to sell him as having written pure fiction?* His anti-war stance was based on his experiences during military training, his time at the Western front and in the hospital where he spent the rest of the war. If that information is not correct please furnish me with proof to the contrary, because that's all I know.

If anyone wants a true counterpiece to Junger they ought to look at Dix's work:

http://www.ottodix.org/index/catalog-...

Just click on through, there are some fifty drawings based on sketches he executed right during the war. He was one of the machine gunners mowing down allied forces on the Somme. He volunteered right away in 1914 and stayed on until fall 1918. We don't have any artist on the allied side coming even close to this, particularly as Dix kept addressing this topic during the interwar period.

Going by the German war diaries and early works about the war that I read he and Remarque are both much more representative than Junger. Just as Coningsby Dawson is far less representative than Atkinson, Herbert or Martin.

The problem is that Junger was embraced by the early nazis, not without him courting them quite a bit, which is why he tends to be noticed as much as he is, whereas a truly influental artist like Dix rarely even makes it into the consciousness of people researching the Great War. And the rest of the war diaries of German soldiers, whether officers or other ranks are rarely even mentioned anywhere.

*I noticed they're doing this also with Herbert's The Secret Battle, amusingly (well not really) he writes a story which was later dozens of times corroborated by easily researchable hard facts about SAD.

And welcome on GoodReads, by the way. ;)


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