‘For me, the front is as sinister as a whirlpool.’
As I read this book about the horrors of war, I thought about my family members who fought on the Western Front. My maternal grandfather, who lived to be 80, and his younger brother who died because of his war injuries in 1920 aged 30. My grandfather never spoke of the war, of being gassed, or of suffering his first heart attack in his twenties. Another relative, on my father’s side, had several sons in the conflict. Two of them were killed in France.
From the dioramas at the Australian War Memorial, I gain some idea of the conditions, from other reading I gain some idea of the horror.
‘Albert puts it into words. ‘The war has ruined us for everything.’’
This book may be fictional, but I can imagine hundreds of thousands of young men, like the fictional Paul Bäumer, enlisting. My grandfather travelled from Queensland where he was cutting cane, home to Tasmania to enlist. He was too short to enlist in Queensland, tall enough to enlist in Tasmania. Fate. You see, I read this fiction and try to imagine where my own family members were and how they coped.
I read this fiction and the characters become proxies for those other young men, from so many different countries who became caught up in this dreadful conflict. And the only thing that has changed in the last one hundred or so years is that men have constructed ever more awful ways of killing.
‘The horror of the front fades away when you turn your back on it, so we can attack it with coarse or black humour.’ Indeed.