The so-called revisionist historians of the First World War can’t help appearing callous as they commend some of the strategic decisions of the British Army’s high command, while omitting to mention the massive suffering endured by its soldiers. Sometimes they remind one of Churchill’s comparison of Haig to a surgeon in the pre-anaesthetic era: if the patient expired under the knife, “he would not reproach himself”. By contrast, To End All Wars is a book that avowedly wears its heart on its sleeve. Nothing speaks more clearly or movingly of the spirit of futility that pervades Adam Hochschild’s perspective on the war than a recent discovery in the Saint-Symphorien military cemetery, east of Mons. There, by extraordinary coincidence, lie the first and last British soldiers to die in the war: sixteen-year-old John Parr of Finchley, North London, a golf caddy, who lied about his age in order to enlist, and George Ellison, a forty-year-old miner from Leeds, who survived all but the last ninety minutes of fighting. Parr and Ellison, killed within a few miles of each other, fighting to secure the same stretch of ground, are now buried under pine trees, seven yards apart.
more from Mark Bostridge at the TLS here.