100th Anniversary of World War I

BOOKS CHECKED OUT | By JANET CLAPP

On June 28, 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by a Serbian. One month later, on July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Before long, many European countries joined the hostilities and the Great War had begun.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, there have been a spate of books published to crowd shelves already filled with volumes written through the years. Here are just a few titles – old and new, fiction and non-fiction – to provide readers with an understanding of a momentous time in history.

“1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War” by Charles Emmerson. What was the world like before the war? In this fascinating tome, Emmerson portrays various cities as they were in 1913, touching on events, politics, economics, and the arts. “Unlike Paris, which had a reputation to maintain, and Berlin, which had a desperate need to show it had arrived, Rome was a city recovering its rank.” In the United States, “Washington stood for the incomplete fulfilment of America’s past, New York stood as the ambiguous symbol of America’s future.” For a global perspective, Emmerson includes Peking, Buenos Aires, Tehran, Constantinople and more.

“Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology” edited by Tim Kendall. The works in this collection of war poems were written between 1914 and 1966 by poets from Britain and Ireland who lived through World War I. Rudyard Kipling’s “Mesopotamia” begins, “They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young, / The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave: / But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung, / Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?” Each poet is introduced by a short biographical piece. A poem from May Wedderburn Cannan titled “August 1914” starts, “The sun sank slow by the shell-swept height, / The guns had prepared a way, / And a soldier turned to sleep that night / Who would not wake for the day, / And a blackbird flew from the window-sill, / When a girl knelt down to pray.”

“An Illustrated History of the First World War” by John Keegan. John Keegan’s “The First World War” provides much of the text of this book, which is liberally illustrated with maps, paintings and photographs that depict the history of the war. “The war that men were already beginning to call the Great War was becoming a world war and its bounds were being set wider with every month that passed.” This book offers a solid overview enhanced by sidebars about wide-ranging topics such as uniforms, propaganda, and Palestine.

“The Lie” by Helen Dunmore. In this memorable novel, Daniel Branwell returns to his home village in Cornwall after World War I ends, but he is haunted by the ghost of his boyhood friend, Frederick, who died at the front. ”Frederick and I were blood brothers. We did it with words from The Jungle Book, using his seven-bladed knife. We be of one blood, thou and I. No one else knew about it. Frederick called me BB, and that was our password.” As a poor boy, Daniel worked as a gardener and could remember every poem he read; now recollections of childhood escapades mingle with memories of the horrors of war. “I can smell the mud. You never forget the reek of it. Thick, almost oily, full of shit and rotten flesh, cordite and chloride of lime.”

“Maisie Dobbs” by Jacqueline Winspear. In this fictional work, Winspear reveals how the war affected people’s lives. Maisie Dobbs in 1929 England has set up her own business as a private investigator. “Finally he nodded his head, satisfied that he had found exactly the right place for her name, a place that would let callers know that M. Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, was open for business.” Maisie’s first case causes her to face the memories of her wartime experience as a nurse. “It was later, much later, more than ten years after the war, that Maisie remembered every thought that had entered her mind on the journey back to the battlefield hospital.”

For readers looking for more fiction set in the World War I era, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, written in 1929, is a classic. In a different vein, the mother-and-son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd – writing under the pen name Charles Todd – offers two mystery series. The first features Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard inspector who suffers from shell shock. The second series features World War I nurse Bess Crawford. The prolific mystery writer Anne Perry has a series of novels featuring chaplain Joseph Reavley that are set during the first World War.

The books mentioned above, and many more about World War I, are available at the Rutland Free Library. What title have you read about the Great War?

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at the Rutland Free Library.
E-MAIL: janet@rutlandfree.org