Frances Donaldson

  • Dear Old Blighty by E.S. Turner
    Joseph, 288 pp, £7.95, February 1980, ISBN 0 7181 1879 0

Britain lost three times as many combatant lives in the 1914 war as in the 1939 and, by the end of 1916, more than in all wars since the Plantaganets. (France lost twice as many as we did in the first war and Germany three times.) The pain and terror of the first war have so invaded the consciousness of later generations that there are always new readers for books about it. In Dear Old Blighty E.S. Turner is concerned with the home front, on which, he says, relatively little has been written. He makes it plain that the cynical view (as in the musical play Oh what a lovely war) that this was a generation ‘duped into the Forces by damsels singing patriotic songs or bullied by peremptory posters’ has much truth in it. Indeed, the extraordinary thing is how long the Liberals resisted conscription and the ‘overdue spreading of the load which had been borne by three million volunteers’: by their delay wasting the country’s natural leaders and fomenting such attitudes as that of the ‘white feather’, which inspired women to taunt any man seen on the streets in civilian clothes.

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