At the end of the First World War more than 192,000 wives had lost their husbands, and nearly 400,000 children had lost their fathers. A further half a million children had lost one or more siblings. Appallingly, one in eight wives died within a year of receiving news of their husband’s death. Few people remained unscathed and the effects of the conflict are still with us. The Quick and the Dead will pay tribute to the families who were left to suffer at home while their husband, fathers and sons went off to fight, and the generations that followed.
My thoughts about the book.
I had a Kindle version of this book with me to read on a battlefield trip to the Somme, but didn’t get around to reading it until I returned and it was probably not the best time to read it as I was feeling very emotional about the whole trip and what I’d learned and experienced there.
This is really an excellent book about an aspect of the war that has interested me for a while and that is the effect the war had on those left behind. I can see why the ‘pebble in the pond’ effect of this terrible period in time has rippled down through the years and had an impact on subsequent generations, including family members of mine. Richard Van Emden writes from the heart and always seems to have a deep empathy for those affected by the war. This is apparent in other books he’s written.
I really thought I wouldn’t be able to get past the part about Lily Baron, the ninety-eight year old lady visiting her father’s grave at Bourlon Wood. ‘He had been killed during the Battle of Cambrai back in November 1917 when she was just five years old. She left a little note on his grave, “Thank-you for five years of real happiness – I’ve missed you all my life’ That really affected me, as did other accounts and had to stop reading for a time.
The book contains a lot of previously unpublished source material from letters and diaries. There is a chapter on The Missing and how so many were lost and remain so today and the heart-rending and fruitless search by family members for the loved ones who never came home.
It’s easy to forget while researching individual service personnel that for every name, rank and number there were family members back home who suffered terribly because of their loss and not only emotionally but financially too. This bit sums it up for me, written by Private Stephen Graham ‘…For dying was not the hardest thing; the hardest thing was plunging one’s home into sorrow.’