Biographies, Memoirs and Diaries of the First World War

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Books - First World War

Biographies, Memoirs and Diaries

War Birds - The Diary of a Great War Pilot, Elliot White Springs. The compelling diaries of an American volunteer serving with the RFC and RAF during the First World War, covering his time in training, which became increasingly light-hearted (and drunken) and his six month long combat career during 1918. Provides a fascinating study of the way in which combat stress could affect someone, as well as the contrast between the fairly safe life on the airfield and the dangers in the air (Read Full Review)
With the German Guns - Four Years on the Western Front, Herbert Sulzbach. The First World War diaries of a German war volunteer who went on to serve in the British Army during the Second World War. Sulzbach served in the artillery on the Western Front from 1914-1918, and took part in the great German offensives of 1918 as well as the final retreat. His diaries are thus an invaluable insight into the views of a reasonable, tolerant member of the German arms forces [read full review]
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Menus, Munitions & Keeping the Peace – The Home Front Diaries of Gabrielle West, 1914-1917, ed. Avalon Weston. The wartime diaries of Gabrielle West, following her as she worked in (and set up) various canteens scattered around military hospitals the vast wartime armaments industry, before a chance of career saw her become a paid wartime Woman Police Office, serving in munitions factories. Provides a fascinating view of the munitions industry, and a very different view of the Home Front to any other I've read [read full review]
The Coward? The Rise and Fall of the Silver King, Steve R. Dunn. A look at the life and mistakes of Admiral Ernest Troubridge, a British admiral best known for his failure to intercept the Goeben in the Mediterranean at the start of the First World War. The aim is to try and work out why Troubridge acted as he did in 1914, examining the late Victorian and Edwardian navy, his own career and decisions he made elsewhere in his life to try and work out what made him tick [read full review]
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Frontline Medic: Gallipoli, Somme, Ypres: The Diary of Captain George Pirie, R.A.M.C. 1914-17, Michael Lucas. Follows the experiences of a South African doctor from a Scottish family through some of the most notorious battles of the First World War, following Pirie in and out of the lines. An uncut diary that includes both dramatic accounts of major Allied attacks and rest time out of the trenches, as well as the day-to-day life in and around the trenches. Unedited after the war, this gives a contemporary day by day view of Pirie's view of the war. [read full review]
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Artillery Scout: The Story of a Forward Observer with the U.S. Field Artillery in World War I, James G. Bilder. Tells the story of the author's grandfather, who served with American Expeditionary Force during the First World War, and took part in the battle of St. Mihiel and the Argonne offensive. Provides two unusual viewpoints for the Western Front for the British reader - that of a US soldier and that of an Artillery Scout, better known as a Forward Observer. [read full review]
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Douglas Haig - As I Knew Him, George S. Duncan . A view of Douglas Haig as seen by his favourite chaplain during the First World War, George Duncan of the Church of Scotland. Splits into three - an introduction that explains how they met and looks at life at Haig's HQ, an examination of their relationship and Haig's behaviour at different stages of the war, and a look at Haig's character and religion. Produces a positive and convincing view of Haig the man and Haig the commander-in-chief, a reminder of the pressures that he was under, and a view of life at Haig's head quarters [read full review]
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My Escape from Donington Hall, Gunther Plüschow.. The memoir of the only German POW to escape home from mainland Britain during either World War. Includes a fascinating section on life in the pre-war German colony of Kiao-Chow, the author's failed attempt to get home from China and his eventual successful escape from Donington Hall. Presents an unusual twist on the POW escape story. [read full review]
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Teenage Tommy: Memoirs of a Cavalryman in the First World War, ed. Richard van Emden . The memoirs of Benjamin Clouting, a very young cavalryman, who was present when the BEF fired its first shots of the First World War, and who despite some serious wounds was still at the front when the war finally ended. A fascinating account of the experiences of a pre-war Cavalry regular, demonstrating the wide range of roles performed by the cavalry during the Great War. [read full review]
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Sailor in the Desert: The Adventures of Phillip Gunn, DSM, RN in the Mesopotamia Campaign 1915, David Gunn. Follows the author's father through his experiences on one of the last sail and coal warships in the Royal Navy and onto ever smaller ships as he took part in the campaign in Mesopotamia that ended in disaster at Kut. [read full review]
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In the Teeth of the Wind: Memoirs of the Royal Naval Air Service in the First World War, Squadron Leader C P O Bartlett DSC.. Very different to the more familiar RFC memoirs, this traces the wartime experiences of a RNAS bomber pilot, mainly operating near the Channel coast, taking part in the first sustained bombing campaign in military history [read full review]
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A Doctor on the Western Front - The Diaries of Henry Owens, 1914-1918, ed. John Hutton. Follows a doctor who reached the front during the period of mobile warfare in 1914 and was present at Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele. Makes it clear just how dangerous the life of a doctor was on the Western Front, often serving under shell fire and sometimes right at the very front. [read full review]
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The Scapegoat: The life and tragedy of a fighting admiral and Churchill's role in his death, Steve R. Dunn. Fascinating biography of Admiral Kit Cradock, the defeated commander at the battle of Coronel in 1914. Also serves as a history of the late Victorian and Edwardian Navy, looking at its strengths and flaws in the period leading up to the First World War, the Royal Navy's first serious trial since the Napoleonic Wars. [read full review]
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Of Those We Loved, I L 'Dick' Read. One of the best Great War memoirs I have ever read, following the author from his arrival on the Western Front late in 1915, through the battle of the Somme, periods spent in Flanders, promotion to officer, to Egypt and back and during the final victorious battles of 1918. Equally good on periods in the front line, behind the line, quiet time and the major battles, this is an outstanding memoir. [read full review]
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A Gunner's Great War, Ian Ronayne. Based around the journal of Clarence Ahier, a Jersey man who served in the artillery during the First World War, fighting on the Somme in 1916 and Ypres in 1917 before ending up as part of the British garrison in India. The journal is supported by a useful framework that puts Ahier's experiences into context. A useful view of the Great War from the position of the guns rather than from the trenches. [read full review]
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The Platoon: An Infantryman on the Western Front 1916-1918, Joseph Johns Steward. Takes an unpublished autobiographical novel of the Western Front and connects the story to historical events and the sources for family history. Probably of most value for the picture it paints of everyday life and death in the trenches, but with some useful historical notes. [read full review]
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Blood & Iron: Letters from the Western Front, Hugh Montagu Butterworth, ed. Jon Cooksey. A collection of letters written in the Ypres salient between May and September 1915. Built around the letters written by Hugh Montagu Butterworth during his time on the Western Front, supported by a detailed biography of Butterworth himself, a sports mad student who emigrated to New Zealand where he worked as a teacher. A fascinating selection of letters that give a glimpse into the brutality of trench warfare. [read full review]
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Wingate Pasha, R J M Pugh. A biography of an important figure in the British Empire, the ruler of the Sudan for twenty years. Wingate was also involved in the defeat of the Dervishes and played a major part in the success of the Arab Revolt of the First World War, and is an interesting figure. [read full review]
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Up to Mametz and Beyond, Llewelyn Wyn Griffith. A classic account of life on the Western Front (Up to Mametz, first published in 1931), accompanied by the same author's unpublished memoirs covering his time as a staff officer during the last two years of the war. The two books are very different in tone, well written and of great value. [read full review]
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Haig - Master of the Field, Major General Sir John Davidson. An account of the events on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918, written by Haig's Director of Operations. The author was motivated by a desire to restore Haig's reputation against what he believed were unfair attacks, and to a large extent he succeeds, although on occasions he does rather over-state his case. [read full review]
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Donald Dean VC, the Memoirs of a Volunteer and Territorial from Two World Wars, ed. Terry Crowdy. The memoirs of a very impressive man, a Victoria Cross winning soldier during the First World War and a senior commander with the Pioneers during the Second World War. The account of the second part of his career is of particular interest, partly because it covers part of the army that is rarely mentioned but that played a crucial part in the Allied victory and partly because of Dean's own attitude to the multi-racial and multi-cultural units under his command. [read full review]
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The Distant Drum - A Memoir of a Guardsman in the Great War, F. E. Noakes. A rare example both of an autobiography written by a private soldier serving in the Guards during the First World War, and of an autobiography that covers the events of 1917 and 1918, including the German offensives in the spring and the final victorious Allied campaigns. [read full review]
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Some Desperate Glory - The Diary of a Young Officer, 1917, Edwin Campion Vaughan. This diary covers the experiences of a young and very inexperienced infantry officer (as he admits himself) from his arrival in France in January 1917 to his participation in the Third Battle of Ypres in August. Casts an unusual light on the relationship between junior officers and the men under their command [read full review]
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Chitral Charlie, The Rise and Fall of Major General Charles Townshend, N. S. Nash. A biography of the general best known for his part in the disastrous Mesopotamian campaign of 1915-16, which ended with the siege and fall of Kut. Townshend is revealed as an intelligent, ambitious and able officer, with a passionate interest in the conduct of military operations but with flaws in his character that combined with the anger caused by the poor treatment of his men in Turkish captivity to leave his reputation in tatters [read full review]
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Brief Glory - The Life of Arthur Rhys Davids DSO MC, Alex Revell. A biography of a classic representative of the First World War's 'lost generation', a brilliant scholar with a promising future who went straight from Eton to the Royal Flying Corps, before gaining fame as a talented 'ace', shooting down Werner Voss just before his own death in battle over Ypres [read full review]
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The Man who ran London during the Great War, Richard Morris. A biography of General Sir Francis Lloyd, General Officer Commanding London District for most of the First World War. Covers Lloyd's service in the Sudan, where he fought at Omdurman, during the Boer War, and his peace-time military and political career as well as his time in charge of London, its military hospitals, crucial rail networks and anti-invasion defences. [read full review]
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Gunther Plüschow: Airman, Escaper, Explorer, Anton Rippon. The biography of a remarkable figure - a German airman who fought at Tsingtao in China, before become the only German POW to escape from Britain during either World War and returning to a hero's welcome in Germany. [read full review]
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Mons, Anzac and Kut, by an MP, Lieutenant Colonel the Hon. Aubrey Herbert MP, ed. Edward Melotte. Three very different diaries from the same author that show how attitudes to the war changed in the first two years of the First World War as the promise of a short exciting war faded away. They also provide some valuable insights into the events they portray, illuminating the chaos of the early fighting in France and the hopelessness of the Allied position at Gallipoli. [read full review]
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Private Beatson's War: Life, Death and Hope on the Western Front, ed. Shaun Springer and Stuart Humphreys. One of the most humane and thoughtful diaries to emerge from the Western Front. Beatson emerges as a literate, compassionate man, able to see his German opponents as human, while also determined to beat them. A reminder of the remarkable generation lost in the trenches of the First World War. [read full review]
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My Seventy-Five, The Journal of a French Gunner August-September 1914, Paul Lintier. The diary of a talented young French author covering the first two months of the First World War, covering mobilisation, the advance to the French frontier and the long retreat, the counter-attack on the Marne and the eventual stalemate on the Aisne. A fascinating view of one of the most important campaigns of the First World War. [read full review]
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Through all the Changing Scenes of Life, ed Susan Harrison. The memories of William Edward Jones, a career Navy man who joined up in 1899 and served during the First World War. An interesting account of life in a navy that still had some old 'three deckers' (mainly as training ships) operating alongside turbine driven destroyers and the great dreadnoughts. [read full review]
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