Now It Can Be Told

by Philip Gibbs. New York: Harper & Bros. 1920. 8vo. 558 pp. $3.00.
THIS is a book quite out of the usual run of war narratives. The author, who served as a correspondent on the British front throughout the war, has already given us in previous volumes his narrative of what happened in France and Flanders so far as the larger military operations are concerned. But the unspeakable misery of these tragic years could not be portrayed in press despatches or official bulletins. The censor, in his zeal for keeping the ‘home front’ firm, put the hush upon that phase of the soldier’s life. Now it can be told, and ought to be told, in simple justice to the millions of men who passed through the grinding anguish of it all.
What the author writes will be a revelation to anyone who has not given his imagination free rein during the past half-dozen years. Yet the picture is no more soul-racking than fidelity to the truth demands. The book is not sensational; it does not specialize in horrors; it has scarcely a word to say about those conspicuous atrocities upon which other volumes have so freely dilated. It is merely a Bayeux tapestry, as it were, full of vividness and color, portraying the British soldier’s life in trench and billet during these tragic years. It is a panorama of what men on the battlefront were thinking, saying, and enduring in days when the official bulletins reported ‘no change in the situation.’ Each incident and episode of the book illustrates the tragedies, the grim humors, and the unceasing agonies of life in the war-zone. It is stern realism, every page of it, although written without any hyperbole or false emphasis. The tales which the author tells point their own moral. No war in all history ever put such a strain upon human endurance. It is well that the world should now try to visualize, if it can, just what it meant to live, month after month and year after year, in an abyss of grime and carnage on the Somme. This is what the author has helped his readers to do.
Being only a civilian, Mr. Gibbs disclaims any right to sit in judgment upon those commanders whose mistakes the men paid for with their lives. But the staff officer is his favorite antipathy, and any brass-hatted soldier with red tabs can count upon a thrust the moment he comes into view. It appears to be an unforgettable grievance that the British staff officer did not rush forward and get himself killed like other men.
The style of the book is high-class journalism, somewhat speeded up. In places it reminds one of an open throttle when the clutch is out. Yet the narrative runs smoothly even at high speed, and it is never dull or commonplace. There is rather too much repetition, however, and too much harking back to the same old shopworn themes. A diligent use of the blue pencil would have shortened the book without seriously impairing either its interest or its value. It would at least have made room for an index, which the volume lacks.
W. B. M.