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The fate of prisoners of war (POWs) is now established within the mainstream of historical enquiry. As well as a growing literature on the subject, modules dedicated to studying the history of POWs are now a common feature on university history courses. The two books under review focus on British servicemen captured during the Second World War.
Lesley Milne’s Laughter and War: Humorous-Satirical Magazines in Britain, France, Germany and Russia 1914–1918, offers a well written overview of the humour of four nations during the Great War, and in turn, four satirical magazines that provoked laughter in these combatant countries.
In his classic thriller Greenmantle, first published in 1916, John Buchan describes his hero Richard Hannay’s first encounter with his adversary, the German officer Colonel Ulrich von Stumm, in a fashion which hints at a hidden strain of sexual deviance within the German armed forces:
The deluge that is the centenary of 1914–18 war is upon us. As the commemoration period rolls on over the next four, five or even more years – the centenaries of unveiling war memorials will take us well into the 2020s – the number of books, newspaper, magazine, TV, radio and online contributions is already greater than any one person might hope to keep up with – even should he or she wish.
‘It is astonishing’, states Panikos Panayi in the opening sentence of his monograph, ‘that almost a century after the outbreak of the First World War, no academic study has yet appeared upon the experiences of German prisoners of war in Britain’ (p. 1).
Rachel Duffett has written a fine social history of British rank and file soldiers, or rankers, and their experiences of food during the Great War. She states, ‘The ranker’s relationship with food was a constant thread, woven throughout his army experience … every day, wherever he was, a man needed to eat’ (p. 229).
The First World War was a terrible experience that most soldiers were shocked by once they became active participants. How were soldiers’ able to cope with the grim realities of this war? How were they able to keep going in spite of losing close friends and comrades in one battle after another?
Historians of nursing in Britain have long been fighting for a place in the history of medicine. For example, of the 718 pages of text in Roy Porter’s best-selling The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, only five are concerned with nursing, and these, inevitably, with Florence Nightingale and 19th-century hospital reform.
Introduction: trauma, modernity, and the First World War
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive was launched in late 2008. The site comprises a substantially revamped version of what was previously the Wilfred Owen archive and includes Oxford University’s virtual seminars for teaching literature online series.