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Commitment and Sacrifice

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Commitment and Sacrifice
Personal Diaries from the Great War. By Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee and Frans Coetzee. (Oxford University Press, New York: 2015. Pg. 352. 13 Illustrations.) ISBN: 978-0-19-933607-4

Reviewed by Richard S. Rodgers - August 18, 2015

What was it like to fight in the trenches of France during World War One? Or what was it like to rush, day after day, into the face of withering fire on the fields of Gallipoli? Did German POWs feel relieved to be out of the war, or were they eager to escape and rejoin the fight? Why would anyone volunteer to drive an ambulance in a war zone? How did officers find the strength to order their men 'over the top' and all too often to certain death? How did soldiers relax and how did internees handle the monotony of camp life? These and many more questions are examined in Commitment and Sacrifice: Personal Diaries from the Great War, one of the many books published to commemorate the centenary of the War to End all Wars.

In Commitment and Sacrifice, the book's authors, Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee and Frans Coetzee, have given six long dead men the chance to speak to a new generation, in their own words, about their experiences during the First World War via their diary entries. The six diarists whose writings are included in this book are: The book contains their war diaries, in English translation when required, along with annotations provided by the book's authors that help to put the events chronicles into context, explain terminology, and to clarify references to events that may be unfamiliar to modern readers. The authors, who are both university professors, have also provided an introduction to the book, as a whole, as well as an introduction to each diarist and the events surrounding their keeping of a diary.

The diaries, and the annotations, make this a remarkable book, both as a general source of information on what life was like for both prisoners and combatants, but also how the men in question viewed the war and their role in it. Commitment and Sacrifice is an important book that will enthrall students, historians, and general readers alike and which will help all readers to better understand the First World War from the unique perspective of six very different men who lived through it. Commitment and Sacrifice is deserving of a place in both public and school libraries and it is ideal for use as a supplemental text in classes on the First World War.


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