OOH, I can't decide already!!!!!
I want to read both the books already suggested, but I have one of my own which I'm about to start which I'm going to suggest.
Now it's not the sort of book I would expect anyone to normally read unless they're interested in the subject BUT (and it is a BIG but!) this subject is dear to my heart and, having read the sequel already (yes, I always do things back to front, but if you knew the books you'd see it doesn't matter) I know what a quality read it is.
It's called 'Somme Mud' 'The experiences of an Infantryman in France, 1916 - 1919' and it's by E P F Lynch. This is not a novel, but it does read like one.
The write up:
'It's the end of the 1916 winter and the conditions are almost unbelievable. We live in a world of Somme mud. We sleep in it, work in it, fight in it, wade in it and many of us die in it. We see it, we feel it, eat and curse it, but we can't escape it, not even by dying.
Private Edward Lynch enlisted in the army aged just eighteen. As his ship set sail for France, the band played 'Boys of the Dardanelles' and the crowd proudly waved off their young men - men who had no notion of the reality of the trenches of the Somme; of the pale-faced, traumatized soldiers they would encounter there; of the mud and blood and the innumerable contradictions of war.
Upon his return from France in 1919, Private Lynch recorded his experiences on the Western Front in twenty school exercise books, perhaps i the hope of making sense of and coming to terms with all that he had witnessed. Edited and published here for the first time, Lynch's story is a rare and precious find: a personal account that vividly captures the horror and magnitude of the First World War, written from the perspective of an ordinary infantryman.
Told with dignity, candour and surprising wit, Somme Mud stands as a testament to the power of the human spirit - for out of the mud that threatens to suck out a man's very soul rises a compelling true story of humanity and friendship.
'On I go till a burst of machine-gun bullets goes phut, phut, phut into the mud around me. I jump high and dive for the safety of a nearby shell hole. I', just in it when the gun lets go again, chops the rim of the shell hole, splashing mud on my hands and face and putting the breeze right up me. I'm now sorry I became a runner, sorry I ever became a soldier at all. I can't stay in this shell hole all day, much as I'd like to. I know that the enemy gunner is on to me and I'm not game to think what might happen to me if I leave the hole, but I grab my fear hard for I know the colonel is waiting, and brigade and division are waiting for my message. With a bound I am out of the hole and fly to my left as I hear the gun open on me again. Into another shell hole, no pause, up and off to my right again and into another ...........'
If you even want to begin to understand what it's like for soldiers in war time, this is the book to read!!