A Month at the Front: The Diary of an Unknown Soldier by Unknown Soldier
In July 1917, a young man in the 12th East Surrey Regiment kept a journal of his experiences at the front. This poignant and moving account is narrated with a keen sense of observation, bringing to life the sights, sounds, smells, and horrors of war. The anonymous author candidly describes his daily life: dodging shells to fetch meals from the rations cart; his regiment lost on a march, straying perilously near enemy lines; the selfishness of his commanding officer; the daily distribution of rum; the soar of shells ('whiz bangs') above his head, communicating by sign with a captured German soldier living in his trench; catching sleep in snatches 10 or fifteen minutes; and always, the endless mud. He begins understatedly: 'The first night passed uneventfully, except that we were shelled,' describing his journey to the front: 'It was nothing unusual to come across a dead horse sometimes two with great holes in their sides caused by shells, and now and then a dead comrade would be lying waiting for burial.' Amid the horrors of war, there is humour, for example, in his pithy description of breakfast: 'Bread and jam and mud but no drink,' or in the account of the menacing shapes which advance slowly one foggy evening over a period of several hours. 'In the morning we discovered that a good many of these Germans were nothing more than a few short willow shrubs waving about in the breeze. We had a good laugh.' Gradually, he describes how one by one, his fellow soldiers in his beloved 12th East Surreys fall until he is left with just three of his mates. Trapped in a hole in the ground, he sees an enemy soldier lob a grenade at him and turns face down in the mud to receive the blow: 'This I thought is the end, so far as I am concerned.' Landing on his back, the grenade failed to explode. The narrative ends abruptly, as he is taken prisoner by the Enemy. This brief, highly personal and compelling account of one soldier's experience, with a short introduction, will appeal to anyone with an interest in the human condition.