The Greatest Day in History: How the Great War Really Ended by Nicholas Best - review by M R D Foot

M R D Foot

Silence at the Front

The Greatest Day in History: How the Great War Really Ended

By

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 304pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

Nicholas Best brings back to life the second week of November 1918, and the end of the Great War, in a scintillating set of extracts from the memoirs of those who were there at the time and wrote down at once what they thought and saw. His book presents a miscellany of tragedy mixed with delight. Best ranges over several continents, but concentrates on the Western Front, in France and Flanders, where the bulk of both sides' armies lay. Sometimes he quotes famous figures – Woodrow Wilson, Clemenceau, the Kaiser, Churchill, Haig; sometimes he introduces figures famous only later, such as Harry Truman, then a gunner battery commander in France, or Agatha Christie, who had just had her first novel rejected by a publisher, or Ernest Hemingway, who already claimed 227 wounds.

Just as tellingly, he uses the letters and diaries of individuals then and now obscure, who nevertheless throw sharp shafts of light – or darkness – on scenes of tumult and confusion. One of his revealing sources is a young signals clerk at the British rear area base at Boulogne,

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