Sunday, June 1, 2014

World War I story

"The First of July" is a sweeping war epic that deserves to be placed with the exceptional war novels of WWI.

With recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, readers often forget about the battles and terrific losses in WWI. In a disaster that was the Battle of the Somme, the final numbers showed over 57,000 casualties of whom over 19,000 died and over 35,000 were wounded.

This story lets the reader share in the lives of four men who were to participate in the battle. We follow their paths from 1913 to their actions in the battle on July 1, 1916.

Frank Stanton was an apprentice carpenter who moved to London at age 19. He became a store clerk who dreamed of riding a bike in the Tour de France.
Benedict Chatto from Gloucester, was a music student and close friends with another student, Theo. They would both serve as officers in the army, Ben in artillery and Theo as a pilot.
Jean-Baptiste Mallet from Corbie, France, worked in a blacksmith shop and left home after witnessing an unpleasant situation.
Harry Sydenham was a businessman in New York after leaving England suddenly after a family incident.

The author does a good job in describing the characters and the pride they took at being soldiers. At Frank's business, the company gave a monetary bonus to each man who joined the army. We read the interesting turns of fate as the man cross paths at various points in the battle.

The gritty image of exploding bombs, grotesque corpses of fellow soldiers and dead soldiers whose bodies hung up on the barbed wire were parts of the story that were very visual.

We forget how young men at the time had such patriotic feelings about the war and went into battle not realizing how terrible trench warfare would be or dreaming of the deaths many of the soldiers faced when they tried to race across fields and faced German machine guns.

The story is memorable and reminded me of Picket's Charge in the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War.


Kelly said...

I also read a book that dealt with WWI not long ago. I know far less about that war than WWII and should read more about it. We need to remember!

Man of la Book said...

Facinating book. I read a lot about WWII, not as much on the first world war even though I realize how brutal it was.

Unknown said...

Hi Kelly and Zohar,
I'm glad you enjoyed my review. This book was a bit of a departure for me but my father was in at the end of the war and I felt like I might be reading something he could have related to. Dad was a medical student in Ontario, Canada toward the end of the war and his class was activated and gave medical care to the Canadian troops in Ontario. My information is that if the war lasted longer, they would all be sent overseas.

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