The published collections of the State Library of Victoria contain a variety of portrayals of the war experience from the horror of war to heroic accounts. Most modern histories of World War I give a grim picture of the war. Contrast this with some of the contemporary book titles:
- Paths of glory: impressions of war written at and near the Front (NY, 1915) by Irvin S. Cobb
- Poetical pictures of the great war suitable for recitation (London, 1917) by Mackenzie Bell
- One young man: the simple and true story of a clerk who enlisted in 1914, who fought on the Western front for nearly two years, was severely wounded at the Battle of the Somme, and is now on his way back to his desk (London, 1917) by Sydney Baxter
In this last account, the returned soldier writes “The sight of my right eye has completely gone out, but as long as the left one keeps as it is I shall not be seriously handicapped” (page 173). Despite his general cheerfulness, he did not hesitate to mention some of the grimmest moments as found on page 65:
“The sights we had seen, the nerve-racking heavy shelling had upset our chaps pretty badly. Many of them sobbed. To see and hear a man sob is terrible, almost as terrible as some of the wounds I have seen – and they have been very awful.”
Other writers do not mince words either. H. Gregory summarised his experiences in Never again: a diary of the Great War. Here is an extract from his Introductory page :
“After my discharge from the Army on the 25th March, 1919, I made up my mind to write a book on my experiences, as the havoc, desolation, and destruction in the Great War appalled me. Added to these was the torment of the vermin, the continual fear of death, the suffering and hardships. It all appeared to me as a thing that should never be. Surely human beings were never intended to go through such harrowing experiences.”
World War I magazines and journals are another fascinating source of information on many different aspects of the war, ranging from official military journals, with reports and maps to the humorous trench journals.
Australian magazines include:
- The Kia-ora coo-ee: official magazine of the Australian and New Zealand forces in Egypt, Palestine, Salonica & Mesopotamia contains news, anecdotes and stories.
- Aussie: the Australian soldiers’ magazine written and illustrated by members of the Australian Imperial Force is a war magazine containing humorous and personal stories, poems, songs, tips and sketches.
- All abaht it is the journal of the 10th Australian Field Ambulance 1916 -1919 written by members of the unit while stationed at Lark Hill in England and in the trenches in France.
This is only a glimpse of publications held by the Library which portray the World War 1 experience. More information is available in our Research Guide Researching soldiers of World War 1.