Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Review - The Imperial War Museum Book of 1914

The Imperial War Museum Book of 1914 is one of a series that has been put together using contemporary letters and diaries from the collections held by the museum by Malcolm Brown. One thing that is quite striking in this account is how few of the individuals whose accounts are used survived the war, though this is not so surprising when it is largely the original pre-war regulars who made up the BEF and would have had to survive a further 3 years of the war.

It is written from the perspective mainly of the British forces and civilians as the IWM's archives are largely from the British and Commonwealth sources though some other nations are represented. There is a mixture of the services and ranks letters and diaries used to produce the accounts which does give a range of viewpoints. There are few accounts from senior officers which is useful if you are looking for a soldier's eye view of the war.

I would recommend this book and the series to anyone who wants to see the contemporary perspectives of the First World War as we do have a very strongly mediated view of the war and it has been clear from the discussion of the 100th anniversary of its outbreak that it is highly contentious.

The great advantage of this series is that it is based on accounts from participants written at the time rather than afterwards as I suspect many memoirs produced after the war were affected by the climate of memory that they were written in. I'll have to reread The Great War and Modern Memory fairly soon as it is useful in interpreting the many works of history and literature about WWI.

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