There’s an interesting article in The Hindu today. It groups War Classics with several books which approach the First World War from a different angle.
World War I spawned literature of various hues. One hundred years later, we still grope for meanings and explanations. Here are a few books that give us some indication of the pointless nature of the Great War, told by individuals who either experienced it firsthand or wrote about it later.
War Classics: The Remarkable Memoir of Scottish Scholar Christina Keith on the Western Front by Flora Johnston talks about a woman from upper class Scottish society, a lecturer in Classics, who went to live and struggle with common soldiers as a teacher with the army’s education scheme in France. The memoirs tell of the role played by thousands of men and women behind the lines to support the war and opens up a whole new world that lay just a few miles from the front. Keith also travelled across the devastated war zones after the Armistice and spoke of “a dream world, where everything happened… on a background of infinite horror”. She met the soldiers who had survived, saw tanks, clothing and weaponry lying littered across the battlefields of Europe and the war graves consisting of rough wooden crosses stuck in yellow mud and water.
I don’t think Christina was setting out to portray the war as pointless, but I do think her descriptions of the devastation it caused have real power – in part because they are written from a different viewpoint to most other commentators. The article concludes, We need books like these to approach the truth.
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