History tells us 'what was'. It tells us when things happened. When kings and cultures lived and died, armies were raised and vanquished, and mighty empires rose and fell. History, as we know it from books, is often boring, for it fails to answer one very simple question: What was it like?
When war broke out in Europe in July 1914, people on all sides believed it would be over by Christmas. Little could they know just how wrong they were. By November 1918, ten million people had died, and the political map of the world had been re-drawn. Caught up in the middle of this chaos were millions of ordinary men, women and children. Their very lives changed in ways they could never have imagined.
This is their story.
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This is the 'understory' of the Great War told through the diaries of men, women and children from over twenty European countries, including Germany. We see early patriotism and confidence in heroic victory changing in the face of the reality of the personal experiences of individuals, families and combatants shown through archive film, reconstructions and, most powerfully, the words of the diarists: the French child who is first seen playing exciting war games with his lead soldiers; the fourteen year old Russian girl determined to go to the front to prove her Cossack courage;; the German mother who will not oppose her teenage son's longing to fight for his country and the personal responses of many others. We are all familiar with the official versions of the 1914-18 War. Great war Diaries takes us into the feelings of real human beings, many of them women, nurses in France, women in the munitions factories at home and fighting their own battles against social injustice and sexism. These diaries left me asking many questions about the 'greatness' of the 'Great' War.
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