I was given a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque to read on World Book Day this year and I was deeply affected by the book’s power. It is an unremitting condemnation of the sheer waste and insanity of war. At the same time as being an utterly absorbing read, after eighty years (published in 1929) the book still has the power to shock in much the same way as Wilfred Owen manages to in his unforgettable poem Dulce Et Decorum Est.
My grandfather fought in the First World War. I was eleven in 1966, the year he died. I probably wasn’t as respectful of him and his chums as I ought to have been; to me then, they were just ‘a bunch of old boys’. He had very little to say about it as I recall, none of them did. Many of them had spent the remaining forty or fifty years of their lives trying to forget the terrible sights they’d seen as young men, so it’s hardly surprising they didn’t feel inclined to talk about it much.
Ironic to think that in the ninety-three years since the cessation of fighting in World War One (the war to end war!) there hasn’t been a single year when this tiny island of ours hasn’t been involved in an armed conflict of one kind or other somewhere in the world.