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Martin Gilbert’s First World War


Fig.1 a great big big red book on the First World War from 1994

The last book I unwrapped that was this large and heavy was a hardback Chamber’s dictionary – it was 1974. I bought Gilbert though in a manner that was very 21st century – through Amazon, picking a second hand copy in near perfect condition.

Like so many authors he begins with his own links to the First War – an uncle who took a shot across the skull that left a grove. This account reminded me that as well as my grandfather who served and survived the Western Front, I had a great uncle Arthur who had been in the cavalry. A piece of shrapnel almost took off his right leg. He relished showing us young boys my second cousin and brother, a leg that from the knee downards that looked like twisted rope. We were invited to feel it too. Gilbert though met many of the players and veterans as an interest honed by visits to the Western Front with his father developed into an academic career as an historian. He subsequently met and interviewed many veterans and surving politicians.

it would require anothet 20,000 volumes this big, over 600 pages, to list those 9 million who died in the First World War.

Is that 2,000 Wembley Arenas? Figures like this are astronomic. 9,000 school assemblies. If each person lost were a tree how many acres would be covered? The population of Wales and Scotland combined. If they stood hand in hand they would …


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