One for Remembrance Sunday: Alan Sillitoe - Raw Material (1972), recounting his uncle's memories of the first world war - (Chap 37):
His own officers, I heard him tell my father with a sort of crazed respect at their utter callousness, had lifted their revolvers to make sure the men went over the top. He remembered the voice petulantly barking as if they were cattle: 'Get on! Get on, then! Get on! Come on, you, get on. Get on, then. Get on!"(Chap 40):
"The blow finished Britain as a world power, and as a country fit for any hero to live in. The heroes and their heroic spirit were dead. If they had survived they would indeed have insisted after the war that England be made habitable for them. But such an insistence would have disturbed the old order too fundamentally for its comfort, which with sadistic prescience saw to it therefore that those heroes did not outlast them.(Chap 43):
For every officer killed or wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, twenty-two other ranks fell with him. During the whole of the Boer War, in which the total casualties were under 17,000, the proportion was one officer to eleven other ranks.A remarkable book that sorely deserves a reprint.
If Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the British class war was fought out on the Western Front with real shells and bullets. The old men of the upper classes won by throwing the best possible material into the slaughter, including their own high-spirited and idealistic young. But the masses who joined up were people who had been perfected by more than a century of the Industrial Revolution. In one sense they were indeed the flower of mankind: intelligent, technically minded, and literate men of a sensibility whose loss sent England as a country into a long decline. When they died, as nearly a million did, they took their skills with them.
Such people were thrown away with prodigal distaste because they were coming to the point of stepping into their birthright. Their potential was about to become manifest, and they would have demanded what had been denied them for so long. War was the only alternative to revolution, and the leaders of every nation were faced by the same cosmic problem.
They sided with destiny and chose war.....