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LCompton

Best single account of Western Front by an ordinary British soldier

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LCompton

Hello, new to the forum and my apologies if this has been answered already.  If you had to recommend one account of serving on the Western Front by an ordinary British soldier, which would it be?  From a search through the forum threads, the books most frequently mentioned are:

 

Frank Richards - Old Soldiers Never Die 

Frederic Manning - Her Privates We/The Middle Parts of Fortune 

 

I've read and enjoyed two of the classic memoirs by officers - Graves and Sassoon, and would not exclude a lightly fictionalised account.  As life is short and my to be read pile is an impossible ideal, I appreciate your help in narrowing this down.  I know there are many well-reviewed books which draw largely on soldiers' recollections but I'm looking for the best single author volume.  

 

Edited by LCompton
syntax wrong

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TullochArd

"With a Machine Gun to Cambrai" by George Coppard

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LCompton

Thanks TullochArd, that one seems highly thought of

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Michelle Young

My Bit by G Ashurst and A Sgt Majors War by E Shepard. I wou,d also throw in the Chronicles of Ancient Sunlight volumes How Dear is Life and A Fox Under My Cloak by Henry Williamson. 

Michelle 

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Black Maria

If i could only chose one it would be 'Other Ranks' by W.V Tilsley , originally published in 1931 it's just been reprinted in a splendid new edition . 

 

 

 

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LCompton

Excellent it's a 5 horse race now

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Dust Jacket Collector

There’s a Devil in the Drum by John F. Lucy, often said to be the finest account of this or any War.

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David Filsell

And said with with accuracy in my opinion

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kenf48

'Best' has to be subjective, George Coppard and his love for the Vickers, an under age volunteer from 1914, out of it by 1918; Tilsley, a Derby recruit; Williamson (don't forget The Wet Flanders Plain as a meditation on the war) was commissioned from the ranks of the Territorial Force in 1916; and Lucy of course was an Irishman volunteering in 1914.  No doubt all will have their cheer leaders, Harry Patch ' The Last Fighting Tommy' as related to Richard van Emden gives an account of an eighteen year old conscript called up in October 1916, probably not a 'classic' but one of the few accounts of a conscript.  There was no 'typical' experience for the other ranks.

 

If forced to choose just one it would be George Coppard,  he was sometimes cynical, often disappointed and bewildered but awarded the MM for his bravery in the conflict. 'With a Machine Gun to Cambrai' was first published in 1968 which not only gave him time to reflect on his experience but its publication in collaboration with the IWM was a counterpoint to the contemporary Vietnam experience and the 'Oh what a Lovely War' generation.  

 

The later edition has an appendix of letters received from former soldiers praising him for his account, one old soldier from Australia wrote, "It is from such accounts of the experiences of the man who has served in the ranks that we get the true history of the war".

 

Ken

 

 

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LCompton

Interesting, neither of the two books that I thought would be the front runners have been recommended so far.    

Grateful for your swift responses, please keep them coming.  Two votes each for 'Devil in the Drum' and 'With a Machine Gun to Cambrai' so far.  

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kenf48
14 minutes ago, LCompton said:

Interesting, neither of the two books that I thought would be the front runners have been recommended so far.    

 

 Well 'Her Privates We' is a fiction, and you asked for,  'one account of serving on the Western Front by an ordinary British soldier'.  Frank Richards account, in my opinion lacks credibility, perhaps more relevant than the appalling 'Somme Mud', sold as a true account but patently a fiction.  There was an avalanche of 'war books' in the late 1920s/30s and authors sought to cash in on their experience so gave the reader what they wanted until eventually the buying public tired of the genre.

 

Ken

 

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LCompton

I'd gathered that 'Her Privates We' was a fictionalised account of Manning's own experiences i.e. similar to Graves and Sassoon's accounts, in that most of the events were experienced personally by the author.  That wouldn't make it a novel or even a roman a clef.  Happy to be corrected if I'm wrong. 

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LCompton

A quick google tells me 'Her Privates We' is usually referred to as a novel, although elsewhere is referred to as autobiography disguised as a novel. So I suppose that excludes it from consideration, as kenf48 said. 

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Marilyne

Difficult question, but I'm definitely with Dust Jacket Collector here... 

"There's a Devil in the Drum" is the best!! 

 

M.

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pierssc

A vote for Old Soldiers Never Die here!

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Chris_Baker

"Four years on the Western Front: being the experiences of a ranker in the London Rifle Brigade, 4th, 3rd and 56th Divisions" by A Rifleman (Aubrey Smith) or Will Bird's "Ghosts have warm hands" for me.

 

 

Edited by Chris_Baker
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Ron da Valli

I agree with Chris, Aubrey Smith's account is, for me, one of the best accounts I have read so far. 

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Jervis
7 hours ago, Dust Jacket Collector said:

There’s a Devil in the Drum by John F. Lucy, often said to be the finest account of this or any War.


my favourite also. 

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LCompton

Again thanks for your contributions - the list is expanding but 'There's a Devil in the Drum' is currently at the top with 4 votes, followed by 'With a Machine Gun to Cambrai' and 'Four Years on the Western Front; being the experiences of a ranker in the London Rifle Brigade, 4th, 3rd and 56th Divisions' with 2 votes each and the rest have 1 vote.  

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Maureene

From the website of Edward Lengel, author of World War I Memories: An Annotated Bibliography of Personal Accounts Published in English Since 1919  2004

http://www.edwardlengel.com/news/

Scroll down, Western Front books are

 

An Irishman finds “A Devil in the Drum”: #1 Best World War I Memoir

Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of “George Sherston”: #2 Best WWI Account

Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel: #3 Best WWI Memoir

A Pastoralist at War: Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War. [Stated in the text as #4]

Canadian Will Bird’s “Ghosts Have Warm Hands”: #5 Best WWI Memoir

A Doughboy’s March Toward the Flame: #6 Best WWI Memoir

Not Disillusioned: A Subaltern’s War, #8 Best World War I Memoir

A British Soldier’s Testament to “Those We Loved”: #10 Best War Memoir

 

Many of these are available online, see the FIBIS Fibiwi page Western Front

https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Western_Front#Historical_books_online

 

Cheers

Maureen

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LCompton

Thanks Maureen - a useful resource; I will count that as another vote for ‘There’s a Devil in the Drum’, the front runner.

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squirrel

The War The Infantry Knew Captain J C Dunn - Based on original letters, diaries and recollections of over 50 Officers, NCO's and men of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, including Richards, Sassoon and Graves. Captain Dunn collected, checked and cross referenced all the material in the book originally published 1938.  

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LCompton

Yes that sounds like a tour de force but unfortunately not the single perspective account that I’m after.

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squirrel

Old Soldiers Never Die, Four Years On The Western Front or There's A Devil In The Drum then.

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LCompton

If you were forced to choose, which of those three?

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