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A Month at the Front: The Diary of an Unknown Soldier
edited by Bodleian Library Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library Publishing, 2006
Cloth: 978-1-85124-355-6

From The Things They Carried and Platoon to today’s documentaries of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ordeals of wartime soldiers are gripping, morally complex narratives of human strength and frailty. A Month at the Front offers another fresh and personal perspective on war. Recently acquired by the Bodleian Library, it is a first-hand account of a young and anonymous British soldier fighting in the frontline trenches of the First World War.

A Month at the Front chronicles one month in the life of a soldier from the 12th East Surrey regiment, and the economical yet powerful narrative vividly brings to life the sights, sounds, and horrors of war. “The first night passed uneventfully, except that we were shelled”—so begins the young man in spare prose, and the quiet drama unfolds from there. Constant bombings and the sobering landscape of war—“It was nothing unusual to come across . . . a dead comrade lying waiting for burial”—are occasionally relieved by humorous events such as the discovery that a troop of advancing Germans was “nothing more than few short willow shrubs waving about in the breeze.” The young soldier describes how his comrades gradually fall one by one, until he and three remaining fellow soldiers are captured by the enemy, an event that abruptly ends the narrative.

A Month at the Front is not penned by a famous author, nor does it claim to offer any broad perspective. Rather, it is the lone voice of an unknown young man thrust into fatal circumstances.

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