The Military Historian and the Popular Image of the Western Front, 1914-1918


By Ian Beckett, published 1st March 1997

Ian Beckett reviews recent revisionist interpretations of the Western Front. English teachers have much to answer for in terms of the enduring popular image of the Great War. Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves are still pressed regularly into action as if they could possibly stand representatives of the 5.7 million who passed through the British Army between 1914 and 1918, the 4.9 million wartime enlistments equating to 22.1% of the entire male population of the United Kingdom. Indeed, reading the devastating critique by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson of the historical pretensions of Paul Fussell’s still influential The Great War and Modern Memory should be compulsory for all who approach the war solely through its literary legacy.

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