Its extremely unusual to read a book about a medical doctor's experiences during WW1, written by a medical doctor who actually served in WW1. It becomes more than just a story, its semi-autobiographical and you can feel the authenticity. Written in the present tense, it reads almost like a diary.
Brent was quite happy doctoring at home. He had no fighting urge to "blast the Hun". As a matter of fact, it was a quarrel he's wasn't sure he even believed in. But as the menfolk started leaving town in khakis, (some never to return) and the remaining villagers began looking askance at him, his medical partner pointed out that if he wanted a practice after the war was over.....
Brent signed up; "coerced by a cowardly conscience", as he put it.
What follows are the adventures of three years living/ doctoring in the trenches. There were no such things as clinic "bunkers" in some safe spot away from the lines; you went into the trenches and shell holes, dragged the wounded off and tended them as best you could in whatever shelter/ dugout you could find and hope the shells wouldn't blow you all up in the process. (And sometimes they did).
It was an eye opener for me as I didn't realize just what kind of dangers the medical officers faced and how differently the war affected people. Some became devil-may-care promiscuous, others went home with severe shell shock, other men (from both sides) lost hope, rebelled against the whole butchery and deserted their posts. And more often than not, you couldn't tell those who were capable by looking at their appearance. The most strapping, confident-looking soldier could become a quivering mass of jelly when the shots started firing.
Written in 1936, before WW2 erupted, I couldn't help but wonder what the author felt as he saw the world changing and gearing up yet again...
A must read and one of Deeping's best.
SEX: None shown, but mentioned matter of factly
VIOLENCE: Some war imagery but not too graphic
PROFANITY: Frequent sprinkling of "D's" and "H's"