1914-1918 An Eyewitness to War, ed. Bob Carruthers

1914-1918 An Eyewitness to War, ed. Bob Carruthers

The book contains four very different sources. First is an account of the early part of the war and a description of the French and British lines written by the French director of propaganda. Second is an account written by an Austrian officer who fought for four weeks on the Eastern Front before being invalided out. The third document was written by an American journalist visiting Verdun during the battle, at a time when the United States was still neutral. Fourth is the only post-war document, and is an account of his experiences written by an official war artist.

One thing that is missing from the book is any introductions to these documents, so we have no idea why they were produced or for what audience. Fritz Kreiser's account of the Eastern Front has the original brief introduction as does 'An Onlooker in France', but the propaganda work and the journalist's account of Verdun are provided with no comments of any sort.

The four pieces provide us with very different views of the war. War Scenes on the Western Front is a blatantly patriotic piece of propaganda written at a time when large parts of eastern France were occupied by the Germans. By the time it was written the war of movement had ended, and the author crossed the battlefields of 1914 to reach the Front. His account of a visit to the ruins of Ypres is particularly moving, describing a city that had effectively been abandoned and yet was still being shelled. He spent a few minutes alone in the main square, and was clearly unsettled by the experience.

Four Weeks in the Trenches provides us with a most unusual view of the war, as seen by an Austrian officer fighting on the Eastern Front very early in the war. It was written while the war was still going on, and reminds us that many Austrians were patriotic supporters of the war effort.

They Shall Not Pass is the story of an American journalist's visit to Verdun. We get a fascinating view of the effort required to keep the army at Verdun supplied, and a very different view of Petain. In 1916 he was the Hero of Verdun, a symbol of French determination and a national hero, untainted by the later Vichy years. One of the most interesting features of the account of Verdun is how inaccurate much of the information available to the author was - the hard-fought defence of the Verdun forts is ignored, or even denied while the German intention to grind down the French in the defence of a symbolic city was completely missed!

The fourth segment is perhaps the most familiar in tone, following a British war artist during his time on the Western Front. Even here there is plenty that is new, as the author spent most of his time well behind the front, so we get an interesting view of life in the rear areas as well as the author's appreciation of the fighting men.

These four accounts provide fascinating and very different views of the First World War as it was seen at the time, and will be of value to anyone with an interest in the war.

War Scenes on the Western Front (1915)
1 - The Zone of Paris
2 - On the French Front
3 - Ruins
4 - At Grips
5 - The British Lines
6 - The Unique City

Four Weeks in the Trenches (1915)

They Shall Not Pass (1916)

An Onlooker in France (1921)
1 - To France (April 1917)
2 - The Somme (April 1917)
3 - At Brigade Headquarters at St. Pol (May-June 1917)
4 - The Ypres Salient (June-July 1917)
5 - The Somme in Summer-Time (August 1917)
6 - The Somme (September 1917)
7 - With the Royal Flying Corps (October 1917)
8 - Cassel and in Hospital (November 1917)
9 - Winter (1917-1918)
10 - London (March-June 1918)
11 - Back in France (July-September 1918)
12 - Amiens (October 1918)
13 - Nearing the End (October 1918)
14 - The Peace Conference
15 - Paris during the Peace Conference
16 - The Signing of the Peace

Author: Various
Editor: Bob Carruthers
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 297
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2012 edition of 1915-1921 originals

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