This profound, moving and important anthology is published to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of The Great War in 1914, a conflict that claimed ten million men.

The War Is Over But the Memories Remain…

Sebastian Faulks, the bestselling author of WWI epic Birdsong, and literary historian Dr Hope Wolf explored archives and autobiographical records to select true-life stories and experiences from diaries, letters, postcards, memoirs and other remembrances of the catastrophic conflict and its aftermath.

The war involved people from so many different backgrounds, and countries and included here are British, German, Russian and Indian voices, privates and officers, seamen and airmen, munitions workers and mothers, nurses and pacifists, prisoners-of-war and conscientious objectors.

This collection is as harrowing as it is poetic. The words are powerful and evoke imagery that brings the reality of pain, fear and suffering vividly to life. Soldiers write of witnessing friends die and comrades having limbs blown off, and of No Man’s Land and life in the trenches, deserts and on the sea. A soldier dies in his own excrement; another cuts off his own fingers. A lieutenant who served in the Somme writes of digging up the corpses of French soldiers that have the “consistency of Camembert cheese”.

There’s friendship, humour, heroism and heartbreak amid the horror: wives part from husbands, perhaps for the last time; bereaved parents write of their sorrow. But it’s the small and surprising stories that stand out – the stories of ordinary people trying to make sense of the senseless. May Sinclair served in the Munro Ambulance Corps in 1914 and wrote in her journal about the conditions faced by refugees: “Little things strike you, though. Already you are forgetting the faces of the two little girls… and of the four little children who have lost their father and mother, but you notice the dog… that absurd little dog which belongs to all nations and all countries” and goes on to describe the Flemish family who carried their beloved pet in turn for mile after mile rather than leave him to the Germans.

Throughout we’re reminded of the scale and horror of the war and the personal experiences faced by those in the frontline, those left behind and those striving to play their part in a monumental effort that turned out not to end all wars.

A Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War
Edited by Sebastian Faulks with Hope Wolf

Hardback, 320 pages, £14.99

Farhana Gani is a founding editor of bookanista. Follow her on Twitter: @farhanagani11

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