A British soldier walked over to the German front line to deliver newspapers; British women married to Germans became ‘enemy aliens’ in their own country; a high-ranking British POW discussed his own troops’ heroism with the Kaiser on the battlefield. Just three amazing stories of contact between the opposing sides in the Great War that eminent historian Richard van Emden has unearthed - incidents that show brutality, great humanity, and above all the bizarre nature of a conflict between two nations with long-standing ties of kinship and friendship.
"God book but bit misleading."
Conventional histories of the Great War have tended to focus on the terrible attritional battles of Ypres, of Arras and of the Somme. What they do not tell us is what life was like for the ordinary soldier, what mattered to him, and how he survived, both physically and mentally. Now for the first time, one of Britain's leading military historians, Richard van Emden tells the story of the Great War exclusively through the words and images of soldiers on the ground.
The youngest soldier who fought in the Great War is believed to have been just 12 years old. Many thousands of other boys are known to have faked eye tests, inflated their small chests and stood on tiptoes to bluff their way into a war of unforeseen horror. How and why so many under-aged boys were able to get to the battlefields is a complex mystery of World War I, and until Richard van Emden's classic account, largely unexplored.
At the end of the First World War more than 192,000 wives had lost their husbands, and nearly 400,000 children had lost their fathers. A further half a million children had lost one or more siblings. Appallingly, one in eight wives died within a year of receiving news of their husband's death. Few people remained unscathed and the effects of the conflict are still with us.
Harry Patch, the last British soldier alive to have fought in the trenches of the First World War, is now 109 years old and one of very few people who can directly recall the horror of that conflict. After a rural childhood in Somerset, Harry left school in 1913 to become a plumber. Three years later he was fighting in the mud and trenches during the Battle of Passchendaele. He saw a great many of his comrades die, and in one dreadful moment the shell that wounded him killed his three closest friends.