Ghosts of War: A History of World War I in Poetry and Prose
– By Andrew Ferguson
This short but powerful book is honestly one of the best accounts of the First World War that I have ever read. Ferguson takes his readers through the entire conflict, using well-timed excerpts from poetry and prose to bring to life the many emotions and experiences of global warfare. His focus on Scottish poets and their contribution to the war effort is particularly poignant, as theirs is a role that has often been overlooked.
Ghosts of War is so much more than an anthology of poetry from the First World War. It tells the story of the conflict in its entirety, using carefully selected excerpts from the war poets and others who experienced it to bring home – as best as those of us living today can ever understand – what it was like for those who lived through the events of 1914-1918. Ferguson places particular emphasis on the words of Scottish poets and their involvement in the conflict; an aspect that has often been forgotten in previous works on the subject.
It has been my genuine pleasure to read and review this book. If you have ever found the history of the Great War to be somewhat inaccessible, and are looking for an overview that will enlighten rather than confuse you further – this is the book for you. Ferguson’s writing style is both factual and conversational, he writes as though he is saying the words out loud, and at times it’s almost like he’s inviting you to reply. In my opinion, this is part of what makes his account of the war so engrossing; it is not simply a series of dates and statistics but living, breathing history – history made personal, made real.
Ferguson’s use of first-hand accounts is another key strength of his book, for how better to understand what the war was really like than through the words of those who endured it? Accounts of this nature are inevitably limited by the fact that those who wrote of their experiences were predominantly the educated and upper-middle class (thus the thoughts and experiences of the average rank-and-file soldier are largely missing), Ferguson works hard to include as many different voices as possible, though, and his decision to prioritise the Scottish contribution to both the war and its poetry has introduced me to some incredible poets – Charles Hamilton Sorley, killed in action at the age of just 20, in particular.
The book is also testament to the idea that there was no universal experience of the war – it meant different things to different people at different times. Ferguson’s choice of poetry and prose brings this vividly and poignantly to life: the hope, the horror and everything in between. Ultimately, Ghosts of War will break your heart – but it is so important that you let it.
You can buy a copy of Ghosts of War here.