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Book Title: Ordeal by Fire: Witnesses to the Great War|
The author of the book: Lyn Macdonald
Edition: The Folio Society
Date of issue: 2001
ISBN: No data
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 21.86 MB
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Reader ratings: 6.5
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ORDEAL BY FIRE: Witnesses to the Great War. (2001). Lyn Macdonald (ed.). *****.
This was a Folio Society reprint (with some editorial changes) of a book originally published by Michael Joseph in 1988 under the title, “1914-1918: Voices and Images of the Great War.” It is a well researched and extremely moving work composed of letters and other writings of the men who served on the battlefields in WW I from all of the participating countries, including Germany. The writings were culled from the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London, and help in the research and assembly was provided by Shirley Seaton. The writings were arranged chronologically, and grouped into battlegrounds fought on in the Western Front – with one exception. The battles actually covered in detail included Mons, Aisne, Neuve Chapelle, Gallipoli, Loos, The Somme, Arras, Messines, Passchendaele, and subsequent encounters. The collection ends up at Armistice Day, 11/11/1918, and then goes on to recap what happened after the war to honor the dead. I was totally amazed at the tone of the letters throughout. Most of the men (actually young boys of about 18) admitted their fear, but they all seemed truly to believe that their lives were small in comparison to the causes they were fighting for. You could see this changing slightly as the war wore on, but there was still a minimum of complaining about the horrible conditions of the men in the field. There was the occassional insertion of humor, e.g., “Captain R. Macdonald (7th Battalion, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders). – It fell to me as an officer to censor the men’s letters. Sometimes they were really funny. One Jock wrote home very briefly and to the point:
I am expecting leave soon. Take a good look at the floor. You’ll see nothing but the ceiling when I get home.”
What also impressed me was the writing skill exhibited by the troops. It makes you realize very quickly that we have lost the art of letter writing. There is also a chapter on the Victoria Cross and of some of the men who received it. There is no way to do justice to this section without copying the full chapter, but it is one that I read over again, twice. This work ends up with a chapter entitled: “The Unknown Warrior.” Its introduction reads: “Over four years of war, of almost nine million young men who had been mobilized throughout the British Empire roughly one in every three had become a casualty, and almost one in every three of these casualties was dead. Almost twice as many were lost to France. In the British Isles alone more than seven hundred thousand men would never come home, and of those who did many would be permanently disabled. The cost of the war had been crippling, not merely in lives but in economic terms. Times were hard, and would become harder still – and it was a time of mourning.” This edition is illustrated throughout with photographs from the various battlesights. Highly recommended.
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Read information about the authorOver the past twenty years Lyn Macdonald has established a popular reputation as an author and historian of the First World War. Her books are They Called It Passchendaele, an account of the Passchendaele campaign in 1917; The Roses of No Man's Land,, a chronicle of the war from the neglected viewpoint of the casualties and the medical teams who struggled to save them; ,Somme, a history of the legendary and horrifying battle that has haunted the minds of succeeding generations; 1914, a vivid account of the first months of the war and winner of the 1987 Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Award; 1914-1918: Voices and Images of the Great War, an illuminating account of the many different aspects of the war; and 1915: The Death of Innocence, a brilliant evocation of the year that saw the terrible losses of Aubers Ridge, Loos, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres and Gallipoli.
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