Frederic Manning: Her Privates, We
This is nominally a work of fiction but it is clearly based on fact. It tells the story of an English regiment and, particularly, three privates in the regiment – Shem, Martlow and Bourne. Bourne is the hero and, presumably, based, at least in part, on Manning himself. He is clearly educated and, while mixing in with his fellow privates, he is clearly different from them, as more than one of the other characters observes. Several times it is suggested that he becomes an officer and he resists till, finally, he is ordered to go to officer training but is killed before the training starts.
While the war does appear, particularly at the end when two of our heroes are killed and the third wounded, most of the novel is about what happens before and after rather than during the fighting. The horrors of war are almost incidental. People get killed when shells land on or near the trenches but it is treated in an almost matter-of-fact way. Manning’s intent is clearly to show firstly the cameraderie among the fighting men but also that, for the average private, the officers were inept and, while not quite as bad as the faceless Germans, certainly not on the same side. All of the three are willing to do the required fighting but are always finding ways of getting out of doing other worthless tasks, such as drill. Manning effectively shows not the horror or even the stupidity of war but the irrelevance of war to the average person.
First published 1929 by Piazza Press (as The Middle Parts of Fortune : Somme & Ancre, 1916)