Editor: Ruth Cowen
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Publisher: March 2012
My Rating: 3.5/5
As I’m sure you know, this year starts the centenary ‘celebrations’ for the First World War – this means plenty of documentaries and books being published about it. Until recently I knew very little about the First World War (I think the dates were pretty much all I knew), so reading these diaries was a way for me to try and connect with this time. The version I read was edited by Ruth Cowen, with a foreword by Michael Morpurgo, and I don’t know if that made a difference to my reading experience (though I found the notes attached very useful).
I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up this book, but I knew I wanted to understand what it was like in the First World War. While Edith Appleton’s diaries do cross that time, I found them very lacking in emotion or personality which made it very difficult for me to connect with her. Most of her entries are blunt documentations of how many men came in or died, which was a bit of a disappointment for me.
However, towards the end of her diaries (the last year or so), Appleton starts mentioning more what she has heard about the war – where the men were, who was winning, etc. It was at this point that I started ‘enjoying’ (I say ‘enjoying’ as who enjoys reading about war?) the diary, as I finally felt I was seeing a glimpse into what it was like. I found it especially hard not to slam the book down every time she mentioned the Germans, as she always was unsympathetic and mean about them. I get that the Germans were the enemy, and she was no doubt influenced by the paraphernalia of the time, but personally I struggled to understand how she could treat and look after them when she was so filled with disgust at their smell, for example. As a reader I felt having this reaction was good, as it meant I was finally connecting (albeit negatively) with the writer.
Unfortunately there are areas of the diaries that are missing, which I guess is to only be expected, but I felt it most at the end as it was abrupt, and I really wanted to know about the rest of her journey home.
I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to understand the numbers side of the First World War, but feel it probably isn’t the best if you are looking to experience that time in an emotional way. Overall I found it an interesting read, though not one I am likely to go back to (though it would be a great referencing tool if the First World War is a particular interest).