My 12 in 12 Challenge – July – Two World Wars – Book 11

Juliet Nicolson’s book The Great Silence considers the situation directly after WW1. The book centres on three consecutive 11th Novembers. The first is in 1918 with the armistice marking the end of fighting. The second is 1919 where the first two minutes’ silence was held and the cenotaph was erected in a temporary form as a focus for commemoration. The third year is 1920 when the body of the Unknown Soldier was buried in Westminster Abbey and the cenotaph was finalised in stone. In between these three events the author talks about the changes in society which were happening at the same time and probably in response to the war.

The three commemorations are well depicted. The author tries to show what they meant for ordinary people and also why people might have opposed how they took place. By concentrating on the cenotaph particularly this does make the book rather London focussed and that is something that is reflected in the rest of the narrative.

Between the larger events the author tries to outline what was happening in society/culture at the time. I have to say that I could not detect any structure for this part of the book. The author also includes no figures or references to research but tells her story in a series of anecdotes. This means that the book is, as already said, London centric but also that it includes a lot about royalty, the aristocracy and the upper classes. Where more “ordinary” people are included they are often servants of the upper classes or their living depends on them. The subjects included were seemingly random but interesting although this book cannot really provide a description of all the changes which took place in culture and society at the time.

I did enjoy this book as a glimpse into times when things were changing. I liked a lot of the stories and noted how they linked with other books I have read this month about WW1. The pieces about the national celebrations and mourning were excellent. It was all interesting and I learned some fascinating facts. I didn’t, however, find this book to be a full description of the changes in society during this period but maybe it wasn’t intended to be so.