The dating game tales from the trenches

‘The world went collectively mad,’ Faulks tells us, ‘in a convulsion that revised our idea of what kind of creatures human beings really are.’The reality of the terrible slaughter that took place on the front line is almost impossible for us to comprehend today.

As she handed out hot Oxo to men who had not eaten for days, she thought them ‘a nice-looking lot, with rather handsome faces and clear eyes.

Leslie Holden was one such casualty, lying in a hospital bed in France and writing home to his family in Australia.

We tried to keep the flies off him and to turn him round - put his backside towards the trench.

But he simply rolled into the trench, half-sideways, head first in the slime.

No wonder a Punjabi named Havildar Abdul Rahman wrote home to his family in frantic words that somehow escaped the eye of the military censor: ‘For God’s sake, don’t enlist and come to this war in Europe.

Those who survived were told constantly to ‘keep your head down’, as Somme veteran Sidney Rogerson recalled.

It would be over by Christmas - everyone said so - so don’t be left behind, get in quickly and grab your piece of the action.

The bare fact of more than 10million dead in four years cannot be glossed over.

But soldiering for King and Country held prospects for him that were otherwise far beyond his poverty-stricken reach.‘There were ten of us in the family and my father was a farm labourer earning 13 shillings [65p] a week.

So when the farmer stopped my pay because it was raining, I said to my mate, “B****r him.

‘Shells falling on a church,’ he wrote ‘make a huge “corump” sound, followed by a noise like crockery falling off a tray, as the roof tiles fall off.

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