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ISBN: 9780007137510


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The British Soldier on the Western Front

by Richard Holmes

Category: History / European
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4 May 2004
Number of pages: 752

The first history of the First World War to put the British soldier who fought in the trenches centre-stage. This superb and important book tells the story of this epic and terrible war through the letters, diaries and memories of those who fought it. Unmissable. The First World War is deeply dug into the consciousness of the British. The images it conjures are of blood, barbed wire, shell-holes filled with dead bodies; of subalterns with wispy moustaches who never had the chance to grow old; of soldiers with faces vacant with shell-shock; of great aunts who never married. Holmes, one of Britain's foremost military historians and TV presenters, broke new ground when he published Redcoat: his history of the British soldier 1750-1860. Now in the same inimitable style, Tommy tells the story of the First World War through the experiences of those who fought it. Over 6 million men served in the British army (22% of the adult male population). Nearly one million lost their lives and over 2 million were wounded. This is the story of all these men, and the women they left behind. By using completely unseen letters, diaries, memoirs and poetry of 1914-1918 to complete his picture of the generation that fought and died in the mud of Flanders during the First World War, the life and character of Sgt Tommy Atkins is cast. Richard Holmes quotes many who wrote at lunchtime and died before tea; of women who lost husbands and brothers in the same afternoon and those who's mental health was destroyed for ever by shell shock. He examines their motivation, the impact of their service, their attitudes to war and to the enemy, and ultimately the legacy of their experience. This book covers completely new ground and the result is a moving testament to the courage and sacrifice of a generation. It tells -- for the first time -- the real story of trench warfare, the strength and fallability of the human spirit, and the individuals behind an epic event. It is an emotional and unforgettable masterpiece from one of our most important historians.

The statistics of the First World War alone are astounding. For every nine British soldiers sent to the Western Front, five would become casualities. In one day 16, 500 men would be killed to gain 1,000 yards of ground. Over a million British lives would be lost in total. The achievement of Richard Holmes' book "Tommy", however, is to illuminate the personal, individual dramas and tragedies that make up these statistics. As with his previous work "Redcoat", which told the story of the common soldier in the age of horse and musket, "Tommy" concentrates on the common soldier in The Great War. Using a wealth of vivid first hand sources along with measured, compelling analysis of the vast tomes written on the subject, Holmes succeeds in over-turning many received notions about life on the front, such as the "lions led by donkeys" cliche. A hefty book in itself, it combines intellectual rigour with a keen awareness of the dramatic. (Kirkus UK)

What the papers say:
Praise for Redcoat:"Redcoat is not just a work of history but of enthusiasm and unparalleled knowledge. This is a wonderful book, doing justice to men who have long deserved a chronicler of Richard Holmes' skill." Bernard Cornwell'It would be hard to exaggerate the excellence of this book. Vivid, comprehensive, well-written, pacy, colourful.' Simon Heffer'A wonderful book, full of anecdote and good sense. Anyone who has enjoyed a Sharpe story will love it.' Bernard Cornwell, Daily Mail'Beautifully written, Redcoat is a vivid account of squalor and suffering almost beyond belief, for the men, their wives and followers, and their horses. One of the best chapters is a description of barrack-room life that will turn a few stomachs in this more fastitidious age.' John Canon, TLS'Redcoat is the story of the British soldier from the Seven Year War through to the Mutiny and Crimea. It is consistently entertaining, full of brilliantly chosen anecdotes and rattles along at a good light infantry pace.' David Crane, Spectator'All the best-known soldier writers are discussed here, and their anecdotes are told with enthusiasm and aplomb... This is an army from another world, and Redcoat is a splendidly entertaining, moving and informative description of its strengths and foibles.' Hew Strachan, Daily Telegraph

Author's Biography:
Celebrated military historian and television presenter Richard Holmes is famous for his BBC series Rebels and Redcoats: The American Revolutionary War; Wellington: The Iron Duke; Battlefields; War Walks and The Western Front. He is the author of the best-selling and widely acclaimed Redcoat (2001) and his dozen other books include Firing Line and The Western Front. He is general editor of the definitive Oxford Companion to Military History. He taught military history at Sandhurst for many years and is now Professor of Military and Security Studies at Cranfield University and the Royal Military College of Science. He lives near Winchester in Hampshire.

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