The Quick and the Dead (Book) Review
Author: Richard Van Emden
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The immediate horrors of war are clear for all to see. During the Great War, this was more evident than ever before as millions of men paid the ultimate price for fighting for their country and a cause they believed in. What isn't so obvious are the tragic consequences for those left behind whose lives would never be the same again. This aspect of the War is often overlooked but the implications on the families and communities affected would change the country forever. In this fascinating book, Richard Van Emden tells the stories of those who were left to cope with the loss of their closest family members; all casualties of the war to end all wars and their loss would be felt by relatives for the rest of their lives.
This is a heart wrenching book and will often leave you extremely touched by the memories of the family members interviewed. This is immediately felt in the book's introduction where Lily Baron remembers her father who she lost at the age of five. Upon visiting his resting place, Lily leaves a wreath and a card saying 'Thank you for five years of real happiness - I've missed you all my life.' It's at this point you swallow hard and the real, incredibly personal, impact of the war becomes even clearer. There are many similar stories contained and each make for fascinating reading. In an unexpected, but in hindsight obvious contrast, the book also tells the stories of the men whose families were happier without them.
The Quick and the Dead then moves on to the efforts by families to have their relatives brought home for burial and to be commemorated on memorials. Particularly touching are the experiences of those whose family members were shot at dawn who were not able to express their grief in the same way as other families. The loss also marked the first ever battlefield tours, as families visited the sites where their family members fell. The author captures the contrast of emotions particularly well ranging from the immediate grief and devastation felt, through anger and outrage to the need to remember and commemorate those lost. This need to ensure that lives hadn't been lost for no reason, moved many family members to push to achieve and many of those interviewed express that this need has indeed been the reason for their own personal successes.
No other historian puts so much work into uncovering new stories, both through interviews with living relatives and by scouring archives new and original material. The Quick and the Dead is an absolutely superb book, incredibly moving but also shocking at times. It is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the Great War and an important piece of Britain's social history, often overlooked, that marks and explains how the war would change the country forever.
Extremely highly recommended!
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