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Westerly Sun Column

July 21, 2014

by Karen M. Light, Collection Management Librarian


World War I Centennial 


World War I, also known as the Great War, began on July 28, 1914, when the Austro-Hungarians invaded Serbia after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. The war, which lasted until November 11, 1918, tallied more than nine million combatants killed and involved all the world’s major economic powers including the United States which entered the war in 1917.


One of the deadliest conflicts in history gave rise to much extraordinary literature which has attracted renewed interest this year due to the celebration of the war’s centennial.


Poetry written about the war includes works by acclaimed British writers Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke. Canadian John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” is probably the best known poem of the war, published after McCrae’s death in 1918.


“Testament of Youth” by Vera Brittain is one of the outstanding memoirs of the period. It has been deemed a classic for its description of the impact of World War I on the lives of women. Brittain , an Oxford University student, spent the war years as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in France and suffered the deaths of both her brother and fiancé in the war.


Phillip Rock, an American writer who lived in England, wrote the novel “The Passing Bells” which vividly depicts World War I and how it changes the lives of the titled Greville family and their servants living at Abingdon Pryory. The sections on the devastation at Ypres and the horror of Gallipoli are unforgettable.


Histories of World War I abound. A recent provocative look at the war is Adam Hochschild’s “To End All Wars: a Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918”, which focuses on the war’s critics and dissenters. “Paris at the End of the World: the City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918” by John Baxter reveals Parisians living under the constant threat of destruction as the terrifying sounds of distant battles are heard in the city.


World War I is a popular topic for movies and TV series. Classics include the early films “All Quiet On the Western Front” and “Sergeant York”, later films such as “King of Hearts” and “Gallipoli” and more recent productions including “War Horse” and HBO’s “Parade’s End”.


Additional books and movies about World War I include “Men Who March Away: Poems of the First World War”, Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”, and Robert Grave’s memoir “Goodbye to All That”. Histories of note include Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” and John Keegan’s “The First World War”. Other worthwhile films are “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The African Queen”.


All materials mentioned are available at the Westerly Library 44 Broad St. 596-2877 or through the Ocean State Libraries network.