There have been thousands of books on the Great War, but most have focused on commanders, battles, strategy, and tactics. Less attention has been paid to the daily lives of the combatants, how they endured the unimaginable conditions of industrial warfare: the rain of shells, bullets, and chemical agents. In The Secret History of Soldiers, Tim Cook, Canada's foremost military historian, examines how those who survived trench warfare on the Western Front found entertainment, solace, relief, and distraction from the relentless slaughter.
Mined from the letters, diaries, memoirs, and oral accounts of more than five hundred combatants, rare examples of trench art, postcards, and even song sheets offer insight into a hidden society that was often irreverent, raunchy, and anti-authoritarian. While novels and poetry often depict the soldiers of the Great War as mere victims, this new history shows how the soldiers pushed back against the grim war, refusing to be broken in the mincing machine of the Western Front.
The fighting at the front was devastating, but behind the battle lines, another layer of life existed, one that included songs, skits, art, and soldier-produced newspapers. Over the years, both writers and historians have overlooked this aspect of the men's lives, but Cook reveals the gallows humour the soldiers employed to endure the trenches.
With his trademark narrative abilities and an unerring eye for the telling human detail, Cook has created another landmark history of Canadian military life as he reveals the secrets of how soldiers survived the carnage of the Western Front.
About the Author
TIM COOK is Chief Historian and Director of Research at the Canadian War Museum. His bestselling books have won multiple awards, including three Ottawa Book Awards for Literary Non-Fiction and two C.P. Stacey Awards for the best book in Canadian military history. In 2008 he won the J.W. Dafoe Prize for At the Sharp End and again in 2018 for Vimy: The Battle and the Legend. Shock Troops won the 2009 RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. Cook is a frequent commentator in the media, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada and the Order of Canada.
A GLOBE AND MAIL BESTSELLER
“It’s a reminder, an often grim one, that humans are resilient, capable of enduring the most harrowing of experiences.” —The Toronto Star
“Cook takes an unprecedented dive into … a rich and little-explored culture that developed among soldiers on the front lines” —Hill Times
“An insightful and readable narrative … At once heartwarming for the reminders of a simpler time and heartbreaking for the unimaginable losses of a century ago … it will breathe added life into all other Great War books.” —Esprit de Corps
“Cook has revealed many of the secrets of the Great War’s soldiers’ lives. The veil of secrecy has been lifted and every chapter can be read over and over.” —Winnipeg Free Press