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Bonding on the Western Front: a book review

Brian Bond was one of my tutors at Kings London War Studies back in '78-9. He always struck me as a very thoughtful and assiduous scholar, and a very good writer, notably as Liddell Hart's biographer. He was encouraging to me in my fumbling attempts at good prose and argument.

Survivors of a Kind, published in 2008, is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. It takes an original approach to examining combat in World War 1 by reviewing the memoirs and lives of a small number of primarily British participants in the bloody and terrible events on the Western Front. When I took a War Studies MA under Brian Bond's tutelage (amonst others), we studied the discipline through the lenses of writers such as Douhet, Clausewitz, and Mahan, and here we have the lenses of various personal experiences as expressed in literary memoirs.

Although the selection is necessarily subjective, Brian has carefully curated the characters for their breadth of backgrounds and variety of experiences. Clearly against the predominant public view of World War 1 in the West typified by Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (subject of a 2022 film remake), the survivors range from the ambivalent Guy Chapman and Edmund Blunden, through the fire-eaters Pollard and Reith (yes, that Reith), voices from the Guards and the rank and file regulars and conscripts, to the anti-war protesters Sassoon and Plowman, not forgetting a couple of airmen for a literally different perspective, and ending with future politicians Eden and Macmillan. It includes famous literary figures, such as Graves and Sassoon, and the less famous, such as Brigadier-General Crozier, "the strange career of".

The book is a well-directed and succinct summary of each life, pointing up differences such as class, wealth, social and political views, and how these lives were transformed by war, particularly combat, experience. Brian has a delicate and sympathetic touch, rather than a polemical one, that nevertheless makes his points convincingly.

I would expect Brian Bond's book to encourage the reader to dip into some of the suggested memoirs for a more rounded and richer view of combat in the First World War than that to be gained by a reading of narrative history, and how it drastically changed the lives of survivors.


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