That war – reading about World War 1

cover for Memoirs of a fox hunting manI recently sat down to make a list of recommended reads for World War 1. I was thinking of the novels and first hand accounts that I had read (and re read) and four really stood out for me.

My all time favourite would be J. L . Carr’s novella A month in the country. First published in 1980, it tells of two veterans who meet several years after wars end in a small Yorkshire village as they work as restorer and archaeologist at the village church. War is a haunting memory still affecting their lives even in a peaceful and idyllic countryside.

Somehow I stumbled over Robert Graves’ Goodbye to all that and I have read and reread this powerful account of the experiences of the front line in the Great War.

Memoirs of a fox hunting man by Siegfried Sassoon follows the life of a young man most interested in hunting and cricket who is caught up in the hysteria of the early war, before grim reality set in. His following two novels – Memoirs of an infantry officer and Sherston’s progress are autobiographical, charting disillusionment and loss as the war progresses.

Birdsong  by Sebastian Faulks is a modern novel which traces the impact of the war on a young man’s life. When it was published in 1993 I remember it being very popular in our libraries – largely due to an amazing word of mouth effect.

My list is very much a personal selection – other classics you might think of like Erich Maria Remarque’s All quiet on the Western Front is there as well as that New Zealand tale of the sufferings of conscientious objectors – Archibald Baxter’s We will not cease. I have popped in some good histories and poetry selections as well as War horse by Michael Morpurgo.

Do you have a World War 1 novel, poem or history that you would recommend?