Voices From The Great War, Peter Vansittart, (Jonathan Cape, £7.95) WHEN I joined the army in January, 1940, 1 was issued, as were many of us in those early days of the second world war, with a mess-tin of an obsolete pattern.
It had been handed into store in 1917; and it still contained a piece of shrivelled bacon which was almost exactly the same age as I was.
But one did not need this black comedy symbolism to point the fact that I and my friends had become soldiers not so much for a new war as for the second round of an old one. the great war, which we felt we had vicariously experienced.
The human wreckage of its aftermath had been part of the background of our brief lives. On our first route marches, we even sang some of its songs.
Peter Vansittart seems haunted yet much as we were then. In the introduction to his miscellany, Voices from the Great War, he recalls the Armistice Days every November, gathered at the school War Memorial; the "spectral landscape created by "certain place names not usually heard in geography lessons . , . Mons, Somme. Wipers, Passchendaele". Such ghosts as these seem to have influenced strongly the nevertheless widely varied choice of items in his book.
Indeed, its implied judgements are very similar to those of Guy Chapman, whose larger selection of writings on the Great War, Vain Glory. published in 1937, expressed the mood of many of the self questioning young men of Britain in Hitler's war; and because it goes to some interesting new sources, the specialist will find Mr Vansittart's book a useful adjunct to its predecessor.
Perhaps it might have reflected more than it does the fact that the great war has been the subject of a good deal of re-assessment in recent years.
For example, Mr Vansittart records his clearly lingering feeling that great war generals were reminiscent of Bertie Wooster's aunt, "like a tomato struggling for self expression".
Several present-day historians of the great war argue persuasively to suggest far otherwise, especially Mr John Terraine, whose large and carefully researched body of work on the facts rather than the myths and folk-memories of the subject surely merited more than a single reference, whether or not its conclusions are accepted.