The First War, the war to end all wars ended almost ninety years ago. The dwindling cadre of living World War I veterans will likely fall to a handful, and then to none at all sometime within in the next decade. Their voices will be stilled, as quiet as the rolling acres of white crosses where their old comrades lie in places such as Vimy Ridge, the Ypres Salient and Verdun, not to mention Gallipoli and Chateau Thierry. While many of the issues that plague the West into this current century came out of that war, the voices and stories of those who experienced it at first hand are receding, leaving only the faintest of traces in our current popular culture.

Comrades in Courage: The British Army in France & Flanders 1914-1918, by Cory Kilvert, J. is an enthusiasts’ attempt to call some of this horrific experience back to mind, and I use enthusiast in the best sense of the word, of someone completely engrossed in the subject. Much of Mr. Kilvert’s source materiel for the book was drawn from his extensive personal collection, including many regimental histories from the period which are now quite rare.

The result of two years intensive work, it is readable and evocative of the time. A curious aspect of the author’s writing style is that he seems to have absorbed a certain measured but faintly archaic writing style, which blends in seamlessly with the many contemporary letters, poems and documents quoted. The book is organized sequentially, year by year, with each chapter broken into smaller bite-size divisions: accounts of actions and events, explanatory essays, poems and letters quoted entire or brief biographies. Some of these little nuggets are heartbreaking: an account of an artilleryman during the retreat from Mons, and being separated from… but followed at a distance by his team of horses, who stopped when he signaled to them from, until after four days they dropped out of the retreat, never to be seen again. There are short disquisitions on the mud, on the woes of preventing trench-foot, of tea laced with syrupy rum, and the case of a civilian expert who was put in charge of sorting out the massive supply bottleneck, a man named Sir Eric Geddes. There are accounts of air aces like Mick Mannock, and of escape attempts from German POW compounds, the bitter enmity between the British commander, Sir Douglas Haig and newspaper baron Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe… and of the Reverend Theodore Bayley, an Army chaplain at the age of fifty-five, who routinely went out with the stretcher-bearers to retrieve the wounded under fire and was awarded the Victoria Cross for doing just that.

This book would be an excellent companion volume to Lyn McDonalds’ oral history accounts of this war, although inclusion of an index, or an expanded table of contents would have made it more useful to a researcher looking for a particular account.

“Comrades in Courage” is available, here and through I wrote of my own family’s experience of WWI here

Sgt. Mom is a freelance writer who lives in San Antonio, and blogs at The Daily Brief. More about her own writing at her own website .

Be Sociable, Share!