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A Woman's Experiences in the Great War (1915)

by Louise Mack

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Louise Mack was an Australian journalist who traveled to France and Belgium to report on the war in the early days when the lines were still fluid and the great dig-in had not hardened along trenches. She was caught a number of times in German territory though she somehow seemed to scrape by in all the confusion. Her Australian (ie. English) nationality could have gotten her shot as a spy, but she spoke French well enough to appear as a local. It's not a gripping adventure story but more subdued and introspective.

The book is very obscure. I read it only on the recommendation of Expatriot over at LibriVox who took the time to narrate a version. As he says in his review, it has problems. Her writing style is "Sentimental" which was a popular style at the time, in particular in Australia (see Songs of a Sentimental Bloke), but for modern ears it is intolerably kitsch. She also displays attitudes common at the time: extreme racism (towards Germans) and extreme nationalism. A toxic mix. Yet Mack can also be observant and occasionally her introspection provides insights into the mindset. In Chapter X she describes the cheeriness of people fighting:

[quote]

Yet [the soldier] became cheerful, just as cheerful as any of us. Strange as it seems in the telling, this cheerfulness is a normal condition of the people nearest the front. There is only one thing that kills it, loss of freedom when loss of freedom means loss of companionship. Ruin, danger, cold, hunger, heat, dirt, discomfort, wounds, suffering, death, are all dashed with glory, and become acceptable as part of the greatest adventure in the world. But loss of freedom wrings the colour from the brain, and shuts out this world and the next when it entails loss of comradeship.

When I first realised this strange phenomenon I thought it would take a volume of psychology to explain it. And then, all suddenly, with no effort of thought, I found the explanation revealing itself in one magic blessed word, Companionship. Out here in the danger-zones, the irksome isolation of ordinary lives has vanished. We are no longer alone ; there are no such things as strangers ; we are all together wherever we are; in the trenches, on the roads, in the trams, in the cities, in the villages, we all talk to each other, we all know each other's histories, we pour out our hopes and fears, we receive the warm, sweet stimulus of human comradeship multiplied out of all proportion to anything that life has ever offered any single one of us before, till even pain and death take on more gentle semblance seen with the eyes of a million people all holding hands.

[end quote]

The Great War was "a million people all holding hands". So incongruous, yet such a common theme of the day, cheerfully doing ones duty, cheerfully dieing. For Mack it was companionship "multiplied out of all proportion to anything that life has ever offered". The book then can be read as naivety, a complete lack of understanding about modern war. And how could she understand, they were inventing modern war. Yet we can't let her off that easy, there were many in England who protested the war. In the end, Mack was part of the problem and on the wrong side of history. That the book remains obscure speaks to its commonness. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jan 23, 2015 |
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Through the battle lines for the Great War in Belgium There are many accounts of female adventurers, explorers, travellers and those who braved the perils of wartime, but this is one of the very finest among them. Louise Mack was a brave, resourceful and self possessed woman who elected to navigate her way through Northern Europe during the First World War and face grave personal danger during a time of great upheaval. The author's account of her experiences as she travelled though the war zone before invasion and behind the lines in enemy territory will make engrossing reading for anyone interested in true stories about women facing the kind of hardship and adversity that would deter many men. Always just one step ahead of the Germans this dauntless woman eventually made her escape back to England where she wrote this remarkable account of the early days of the Great War. Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.… (more)

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