A famous autobiographical account of life as a young soldier in the first World War trenches. Robert Graves, who went on to write I, Claudius, has given to posterity here one of the all-time great insights into the experience of war.
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This book was written in 1929 as a memoir of his service in World War One. The book covers his early life, his time at Charterhouse School where he was mercilessly bullied, the war and the post war period up to writing the book in 1929.
Like many young men Graves enlisted within days of the outbreak of the Great War with no understanding of what war was like. He enlisted as an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He fought in France—the Somme, Souchez, Bethune, Loos, Cambria and Cuinchy—and was seriously wounded and discharged in 1918. In January 1926 Graves, Nancy and their four children set out for Egypt where Graves was to take up an appointment as professor of English in Cairo. In 1929 he divorced his wife and set up house in Deya, Majorca with the American Poet Laura Riding. Graves book “Goodbye To All That” was published the same year as Erick Maira Remarque’s “All Quiet On the Western Front.” Graves was a well known poet and he also wrote poems about WWI as did his friend and fellow soldier Siegfried Sassoon. Graves is best known for his book “I Claudius.”
What makes this such a good memoir about the war is that it is not bogged down with ideologies or politics. He presents what it was like to live day to day in the trenches (as an officer). His vivid account of life and death in the trenches is haunting. While there is obviously much fear, discomfort and horror, there is also lots of comedy and camaraderie. Graves wants to show what WWI was really like, no sentimentalizing it or giving it a meaning he didn’t feel. It was a horrific, life changing experience and that was all.
I had just finished reading “The Storm of Steel” by Ernst Junger. Junger’s memoir is similar to that of Graves in that they both are about reportage. Graves included information about his fellow soldiers, Junger did not, both books tell about the daily life of a soldier. I find it interesting to read about the same battle they both fought in but on opposite side such as the Somme and Cambria. Between the two books I have seen World War One from both viewpoints of the average German and English soldier. Both books reveal a unique, honest and incredibly powerful depiction of the realities of life as a soldier, and of the true effects of fighting on those who experienced it. Martin Jarvis did a good job narrating the book. I recommend this book as a must read for the WWI 100th anniversary.
An honest and well-written???ABRIDGED???WWI Memoir
I loved Robert Graves??? I Claudius and Hercules My Shipmate when I was young, and so had been wanting to read his autobiography, Good-bye to All That. Graves covers his painful school boy education (stale tradition, sadistic bullying, and usually platonic homosexuality), his transformative service with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers during World War I (training, waiting, the Battle of Loos, and the Somme Offensive), and then his immediate post-war life (a teaching job in Egypt and the making and losing of a family).
Throughout, Graves??? writing is accurate, witty, and spare. His description of trench warfare, complete with constant shelling, hidden snipers, poison gas, shoddy equipment, foolish commanders, suicidal charges, meaningless battles, prolific rats, and seemingly random deaths and reprieves, is horrifying. He exposes the full range of human behavior in wartime: bravery, cowardice, infidelity, loyalty, increasing brotherly bonding and enemy loathing, and ignorant patriotism fed by mass media propaganda. I keenly listened to details like Graves and his friends feeling good (rather than envious) when one of their number got wounded enough to be taken safely out of the action, Graves choosing which new recruits would make good officers by watching them play rugby, his being so awfully young when his war service began (by 21 he had seen heavy fighting and had been promoted to Captain), and his suffering from PTSD for years after his war service ended.
I was also interested in the cultural context of his memoir, of the growth of pacifism and feminism and modern poetry. And I enjoyed his sketches of various important literary figures like Siegfried Sassoon, T. E. Lawrence, and John Masefield.
Martin Jarvis??? reading is impeccable and engaging, and pleasant period music ends one chapter to begin the next.
But???I didn???t notice when I bought this book that it was abridged! Grrr! It does feel incomplete and I feel foolish.