The best books on the British Army in World War I

The Books I Picked & Why

Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front

By Richard Holmes

Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front

Why this book?

What was war like for the average British soldier – ‘Tommy’ - taken from civilian life and sent into the inferno of battle? This magisterial study is the best book about British soldiers and their wartime experiences. It explores reasons for enlistment, training, tactics, life in the trenches, and experience of battle. Although vast in scope, it never loses sight of the human side of war. This book presents presents a nuanced, fascinating, and touching study of the common soldier.


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Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme 1916

By Christopher Duffy

Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme 1916

Why this book?

At first glance, this volume may seem out of place in a list of books about the British Army. However, Christopher Duffy’s work is one of the most interesting studies of the British Army on the Somme to have emerged in recent years. By using German sources, particularly interrogation reports from captured British, Canadian and Australian soldiers, he paints a unique picture of the British Army as viewed through the eyes of its chief opponent. The result is an unusual, illuminating, and delightfully readable study.


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Survivors of a Kind: Memoirs of the Western Front

By Brian Bond

Survivors of a Kind: Memoirs of the Western Front

Why this book?

This is the kind of book that I wish I had written. In a series of individual essays, Brian Bond considers a variety of memoirs written by British participants of the Great War, detailing the author’s life and assessing the themes of their work. Some of the memoirs are familiar, such as Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves, whereas others are long forgotten. The result is a fascinating book that reveals the sheer diversity of wartime experience and how the authors struggled to cope with it.


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Morale: A Study of Men and Courage

By John Christopher Malcolm Baynes

Morale: A Study of Men and Courage

Why this book?

What enabled soldiers to maintain their morale in the inferno of the Western Front? This unique book explores the question by studying the soldiers of the elite 2nd Scottish Rifles at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915. It presents a fascinating micro-history of how a British battalion functioned in peace and in war. What type of men served in an elite unit? Where had they come from? What rules did they follow? Where did their loyalties lie? How did they maintain their spirit in the face of dreadful conditions and severe casualties? This book answers these questions and many more.


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Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century

By William Philpott

Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century

Why this book?

The Battle of the Somme 1916 was the longest and bloodiest battle ever fought by the British Army. In popular imagination, the battle tends to focus on its first day – 1st July 1916 – when British forces suffered almost 60,000 casualties. Yet the battle was much more than this single, dreadful day and the fighting would rage for another 140 days. What happened? This meticulously researched book tells the full story of the Somme campaign and shows how it was planned and fought. It is immense in scope, taking the reader from the corridors of high politics to the smoldering shell holes of no-man’s land. Ultimately, it reaches provocative conclusions that may change your thinking about the battle.


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