War stories are always thrilling and give a spine-chilling experience for the readers, irrespective of the ending. Whether they are historical achievements, transitions or failure of war techniques, war heroes are literally superheroes. The thrill and spirit of reading a first party encounter of a war scene from the words of the soldier itself shoot sky-high and is unparalleled in creating war memoirs. We belong to the modern era of Crypto VIP Club and getting the warring opportunity to bookmark such experiences during the World Wars simply make the heroes immortal. There are literally hundreds of these and one could devote an entire web site to them (now there’s an idea!), but here I have selected a sample of them that will prove particularly useful in visiting the battlefields and getting more out of your visit both before you go and once you return.
Note this is a personal choice, and memoirs for Commonwealth soldiers will appear in a separate listing.
MEMOIRS – OFFICERS
Behrend, Arthur – As From Kemmel Hill (Eyre & Spottiswoode 1963)
– Behrend started the war in the infantry and fought at Gallipoli (the subject of an earlier book). In 1917 he transferred to the RGA and served with them on the Western Front until the end of the conflict. A superb account of life in a Siege battery and is unrivalled almost in that respect. Sadly out of print and only available on the second-hand market.
Blunden, Edmund – Undertones of War (numerous editions)
– The author served with the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment in France from 1916. The book is a fine memoir from the point of view of a young officer, with good descriptions of the Somme and Ypres. It also includes some of Blunden’s poetry. The most recent edition was by Penguin in 2001.
Chapman, Guy – A Passionate Prodigality (Ivor Nicholson & Watson Ltd 1933)
– The author served with the 13th Royal Fusiliers and on the Staff of 37th Division from 1915. Well written, it is something of a forgotten memoir of WW1. There were recent editions in the 1970s and 1980s. Now of print and available on the second-hand market.
Douie, Charles – The Weary Road (John Murray 1929)
– Douie served with the 1st Dorsets, and much of the book is about the Somme. Beautifully written and carefully constructed, this is essential reading. Out of print, although there was a modern edition in the 1980s/90s.
Edmonds, Charles – A Subaltern’s War (Peter Davies 1929)
– The author is Charles Carrington, who served with the Royal Warwicks on the Somme and Passchendaele. A superb account of a young platoon commander. Out of print, there were several later editions, but easily available on the second-hand market.
Gordon, Huntley – The Unreturning Army (Dent 1967)
– Huntley Gordon fought as an officer in 112th RFA at Messines and Third Ypres. This is a well written memoir, and one easy to follow on the battlefields today. Out of print, but available on the second-hand market.
Graves, Robert – Goodbye to All That (various editions)
– First published in the 1920s, Graves’ book also ranks as one of the classic Great War accounts. He first served with the Welsh Regiment at Loos, and then Royal Welsh Fusiliers on the Somme until wounded at High Wood. Modern paperback editions widely available and still in print.
Greenwell, Graham H. – An Infant in Arms (Allen Lane 1972)
– Based on the author’s letters and diary, the book follows his service with 1/4th Oxs & Bucks Light Infantry on the Western Front and Italy. Out of print, but available on the second-hand market.
Hutchison, G.S. – Warrior (Hutchinson c.1930s)
– ‘Hutchie’ wrote a large number of books based on his war experiences, this being the best of them. He began the war as an officer in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, then fought with the MGC commanding a MG battalion by 1918. Out of print, but available on the second-hand market.
Mellersh, H.E.L. – Schoolboy Into War (William Kimber 1978)
– Mellersh was a subaltern with the 2nd East Lancs Regt (8th Division) on the Somme and in 1918. The book is a good description of a typical young officer, and is particularly good for the Somme area. Now long out of print, but available on the second-hand market.
Nettleton, John – The Anger of the Guns (William Kimber 1979)
– Nettleton was commissioned from the Artist’s Rifles into the Rifle Brigade, and served with them at Third Ypres and the battles of 1918. He was caught on film by an official cinematographer, and these photos appear in the book. Out of print, but available on the second-hand market.
Pollard, A.O. – Fire-Eater: The Memoirs of a VC (Hutchinson c.1930)
– Pollard was awarded the VC, MC and DCM during the Great War while serving with 1st HAC. The book covers the fighting at Ypres in 1915, Somme and Arras, where Pollard got his VC. Pollard loved the war – he was never happier than when he was in No Man’s Land with a SMLE hunting Germans! Sadly long out of print and only available on the second-hand market.
Rees, R.T. – A Schoolmaster at War (Haycock Press c.1920s)
– Major Rees served with 9th Loyal North Lancs in France and Flanders from 1915 until he lost an arm in April 1918. Rare account of the ‘quiet’ period on Vimy Ridge in 1916 and a VC action at Broadmarsh Crater. Out of print and only available on the second-hand market.
Rodgerson, Sidney – Twelve Days (Arthur Barker 1933)
– This unique book chronicles twelve days in the life of a company commander in the 2nd West Yorks at the end of the battle of the Somme in minute detail. Sadly out of print, there was a modern edition in the 1990s, but is available on the second-hand market.
Sassoon, Siegfried – Memoirs of An Infantry Officer (various editions)
– One of the classic memoirs of the Great War. Starting with Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man, this volume begins on the Somme front and charts Sassoon’s journey from the 1916 battle to Arras and the fighting in 1918. Widely available and still in print.
Talbot Kelly, R.B. – A Subaltern’s Odyssey (William Kimber 1980)
– Talbot Kelly was a gunner officer in the 9th (Scottish) Division, and the book chronicles his experiences from Loos to the Somme to Arras and Third Ypres. Illustrated with his own personal photos and drawings. Out of print, but available on the second-hand market.
Walkington, M.L. – Twice in a Lifetime (Samson Books 1980)
– The author served in 1914 with the 16th Londons (Queen’s Westminsters) and took part in the Christmas Truce. He was then commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps and served with 8th Division. Out of print, but occasionally available on the second-hand market.
MEMOIRS – ORDINARY SOLDIERS
Ashurst, George – My Bit (Crowood Press 1987)
– The author served with 1st Lancashire Fusiliers at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Edited by Richard Holmes, there was a paperback edition, but the book is now out of print.
Clapham, H.S. – Mud and Khaki (Hutchinson c.1930s)
– Clapham fought with 1st Honourable Artillery Company on the Western Front, and this book is his story of the fighting around Ypres in 1915. Excellent description of this period, with much detail about life in the city. Out of print, but available on the second-hand market.
Coppard, George – With A Machine-Gun to Cambrai (various editions)
– Coppard enlisted in the 6th Queens and then served with the Machine Gun Corps until wounded at Cambrai in 1917. Originally published by the IWM in the 1970s, there was a paperback edition by Sutton in 2001.
Read, I.L. – Of Those we Loved (Pentland Press 1994)
– Read started as a private soldier with the 7th Bn Leicestershire Regiment and served with them until he was commissioned in the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1918. Illustrated with his personal drawings. Out of print, but widely available from specialist military book dealers.
Richards, Frank – Old Soldier’s Never Die (various editions)
– First published in the 1920s, Frank Richards classic account was one of the early books written from the point of view of an ordinary soldier. Richards served with 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers from August 1914, and fought in almost every major battle, being awarded the DCM and MM along the way. Essential reading. Modern editions easily available.
Tucker, John F. – Johnny Get Your Gun (William Kimber 1978)
– Tucker fought with the 13th Londons (Kensingtons) from 1915, and the book is particularly strong on the Somme fighting and at Arras. Out of print and only available on the second-hand market.