This book is a reproduction of the author’s diary running for the first few weeks of World War 1 (25 August – 4 October, 1914). It is not a book about the Battle of Verdun, but more the experiences, observations and thoughts of Lt Genevoix as he and his fellow soldiers grapple with the stresses and challenges of war for the first time in the region of the Meuse Valley.
What makes this book quite unique is the degree of detail which the author recalls and remarks upon. Written in the immediacy of the moment, he is able to convey a sense of the frustration, fear, confusion, doubt, hope and comradeship that pervade these early days. One is struck by his horror at seeing soldiers with horrific wounds desperately seeking medical aid, the crushing exhaustion of endless marches in rain and mud, the joy at the prospect of a warm meal, the struggles with preventing melancholy at not receiving mail and the sad empathy at the suffering of wounded horses that he comes across.
He and his soldiers are not hardened to war as of yet; they are still learning and struggling with the new reality of their existence and what it entails. The author is able to convey his concerns and fears of his own leadership and the terror of the prospect of combat and death (or even worse wounding). In battle, especially on the front line, ones focus is drawn into a very narrow field, bracketed by the soldiers within one’s immediate responsibility. This isolation and the necessity to make decisions under the stress of being exposed to maiming, death, exhaustion and fear is eloquently conveyed in Genevoix’s comments.
He is a sensitive, observant and thoughtful man, capable of seeing and capturing the essence of his surroundings and experiences through the written word in a way that many diarists fail to achieve. His work is short, but it leaves one feeling profoundly introspective and humbled at the massive undertaking that Genevoix and his soldiers were embarking upon. This is made all the more poignant with the reader’s benefit of hindsight and the knowledge of what the war would degenerate into. This book is well worth reading for junior and mid-grade officers as well as historians or those curious to get a bit of an appreciation of early field life of a combat command soldier.
Reviewed by Chris Buckham for War History Online
By Maurice Genevoix
Hardback, 171 pages
Major Chris Buckham is a logistics officer with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He maintains a blog of his reviews at www.themilitaryreviewer.blogspot.com