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Volunteers (Hardback)

The Incredible Story of Kitchener's Army Through Soldiers' and Civilians' Own Words and Photographs

Military P&S History > British History WWI

By Richard van Emden
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 400
Illustrations: 216 illustrations
ISBN: 9781473891869
Published: 23rd October 2023

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What greater pride might a young man feel than to serve shoulder to shoulder with his friends in time of war? To enlist into the army with his pals, chums, mates, filling the ranks of battalions that drew their strength from the local community, from amongst factory workers, miners, shop-workers and tradesmen. In August 1914, what more fitting role was there to play than to answer the country’s call to arms?

The past is another country, of course: the world in which these men grew up and the mores that took them to the Western Front might appear innocent and naive today. The Somme battle eviscerated many of these free-spirited battalions. But the raising of this New Army – a purely volunteer army – lives on in the public consciousness, their collective story part of our heritage.

Who were these volunteers who poured into recruiting offices, overwhelming the staff? What motivated these men – too often just boys - to join up? How did they feel about one another and the new military regime into which so many ran with enthusiasm, without much thought as to the future?

After the success of his previous books, The Somme, The Road to Passchendaele, and 1918, best-selling Great War historian Richard van Emden returns to the beginning of the War with this, his latest volume, including an unparalleled collection of soldiers’ own photographs taken on their privately-held cameras. Drawing on long-forgotten memoirs, diaries and letters written by the men who enlisted, Richard tells the riveting story of Kitchener’s volunteers, before they went to fight.

4 out of 5 Stars

I can see it as having a particular value in the hands of a teacher or battlefield guide seeking testimony, though it has an interest for anyone interested in the British Army of the First World War

Read the Full Review Here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

Great War historian and prolific author Richard Van Emden will need no introduction and in Volunteers he draws upon his own archive of interviews with veterans, personal memoirs, diaries, letters and published books, to examine what motivated, initially, 100,000 men to answer Herbert Kitchener’s call for volunteers to form a new citizen army in the opening weeks of the War. Van Emden goes on to chronicle the experiences of these early volunteers as they grapple with the challenges of becoming a soldier and begin to learn what lies ahead of them. This is not an account of the War nor of the great and good, or high and mighty, who directed it, but rather a story of human endeavour, experience and emotions told by these patriotic volunteers in their own words before they went to fight. Drawn from many different walks of life and all classes of society, most were unfamiliar with the customs, traditions and protocols of the British Army and what shines through these amateur soldiers’ stories is a certain naivety, innocence and boyish excitement. Many of these young men were experiencing regular meals, fresh air, physical training and discipline for the first time and enjoying the comradeship of new friends. It is easy to see from these accounts how, before they even left for the front, these experiences were to change their lives and the social attitudes of Britain for ever. With the very topical debate in the UK, and elsewhere in the West, over the urgent need to consider how a civilian army could be recruited, trained and mobilised to meet the growing threat to peace and security Volunteers is a timely and stark reminder of the challenges and clear signal that the needs, fears and expectations of potential recruits was very different in 1914 to today. Recommended.

Clive Elderton, MHS Bulletin, January 2024
 Richard Van Emden

About Richard van Emden

Richard van Emden interviewed 270 veterans of the Great War, has written extensively about the soldiers' lives, and has worked on many television documentaries, always concentrating on the human aspects of war, its challenge and its cost to the millions of men involved. Richard van Emden’s books have sold over 660,000 copies and have appeared in The Times’ bestseller chart on a number of occasions.
He has also worked on more than a dozen television programmes on the Great War, including the award-winning Roses of No Man’s Land, Britain’s Boy Soldiers, A Poem for Harry, War Horse: the Real Story, Teenage Tommies with Fergal Keane and most recently, Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs. He lives in London.

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