WW1 Book Group report February 2018

By Jane Wilson

Our February Book Group meeting started with an update on progress with reading a previously mentioned book choice, ‘The Sleepwalkers’ by Christopher Clark. The author writes about the diplomatic relations among the different European countries, the ebb and flow between various European powers, and the desire for expansion by various empires.

The book highlights the male-dominated hierarchies at the head of these European countries, emphasising the definition of what it was to be a man in Edwardian times.

The same group member recommended a book they had read a few years earlier, the autobiography of Edmund Blunden, titled ‘Undertones of War’. Detailing his time as an infantry subaltern in France and Flanders during WW1, the book also includes examples of his poetry as well as his wartime experiences.

Michael Morpurgo has been a favourite author of the Book Group and our next recommendation was his novel, ‘A Medal for Leroy’. First published in 2013, Morpurgo was inspired to write this novel after learning more about the life and WW1 service of Walter Tull, the first black army officer to lead British troops.

His children’s novel starts in Belgium in 2012 and follows generations of the same family from WW1 to the present day, uncovering family secrets and focusing on the impact of war on their lives. Covering topics ranging through illegitimacy, racial prejudice, love and loss, the book also follows the animal theme common in Morpurgo’s novels, several generations of Jasper, the Jack Russell Terrier.

A member of our group brought along the August 2017 edition of the BBC ‘History’ magazine, pointing out an interesting article about British soldiers held as Prisoners of War in camps in Germany. The article was illustrated with photographs, and included details of starvation, and punishing regimes in the Dulman Camp in Germany. The magazine covers many periods in history, but during the 100-year commemoration of WW1, has many interesting pieces connected to combat in the Great War.

We were suggested works of fiction by Ernest Victor Thompson, an English author (1931 – 2012) who had served in the British Royal Navy and the British Police Force. Thompson has a prolific output of historical novels, including some that have a WW1 connection, such as ‘Brothers in War’ and ‘Tomorrow is Forever’. The novels have romantic tones, are underset by WW1 links, and have a large proportion of factual information within their settings.

‘When This Bloody War Is Over; Soldiers Songs of the First World War by Max Arthur’ highlight songs sung in trenches, dugouts, and on the various battlefields of WW1. The book explores the lyrics, the music, how different songs were adapted by various countries, and how some songs were well known and others less so. Many old and nostalgic favourite tunes are included as well as some lesser known songs, backing up the courage and endurance of WW1 combatants.

Susan Grayzel, a Professor of History at the University of Mississippi, has written ‘Women and the First World War’, a comprehensive look at the contributions and experiences of women during WW1 from a variety of countries, ranging from Austria, Canada, Japan and New Zealand as well as the more usually quoted country examples. The book covers topics such as propaganda, women’s war work, women serving in war, morality, pacifism and revolution as well as exploring the consequences for women of the post-war period. While not a text book, Grayzel’s writing gives a multitude of facts, figures and information that demonstrate women’s part in the war the world over.

The next meeting of our World War One reading group will be held on Tuesday 20 March at 2.30pm in The Bowes Museum Café lounge. Everyone is welcome, whether you bring a book or just want to enjoy the discussion.