Six Weeks. The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War by John Lewis-Stemple

Orion Publishing £20, 358pp, 23 ills (2 in colour), bibliog, index ISBN 978-0-297-86006-8

John Lewis-Stemple’s title deserves a little pedantry; it is simply incorrect. There is simply no foundation in the oft repeated statement that the: ‘average life of a British officer on the Western Front was six (or pick your own figure) weeks’. That it was frequently short, often bloody, is clear, but no one can provide evidence that it was, on average, just six weeks long. Whilst one should object to such a grossly misleading title this is actually a worthwhile and recommended book. As the bibliography indicates the author has trawled a huge part of the catalogue of British junior officer’s published works on their experiences - from Ackerly to Williamson and from Priestley to Thomas. The result is a worthwhile (if self selecting) analysis of the experiences and inexperience, actions and consequences of well-educated, and by definition literary, junior officers from school and training to the front line, their responsibilities, their wounding, hospitalisation and death. Few will not identify one or more of the authors, or books, from which the author quotes. Equally I suspect some new works will become apparent which can, through a valuable bibliography be followed up. If one one wanted to be glib Lewis-Stemple offers an officers only version of Dennis Winter’s excellent Death’s Men. Not as detailed certainly, but a book which seeks to illustrate the essence of the junior officers’ lives and deaths. So forget the title, this is a book worth reading; well presented, written and illustrated. 


Review by David Filsell