Hall is the perfect adventurer. He could sense opportunity and then blend almost seamlessly into an exciting new situation. As a well-educated American, he had a detached but perceptive view of British society and the rush in the summer of 1914 to create a massive new army.Most important, he had a rare eloquencer as a writer.
When World War I broke out, Britain had an army of about 160,000. Millions were quickly recruited and trained. Hall became part of this "mob" which became the stubborn army that stopped Germany's domination of Europe. "Mob" was the soldiers' term; Hall explains, "They fastened the name upon themselves, lest the world at large should think they regarded themselves too highly."
In a telling passage, he describes how the French go to war "for Glorious France, France the Unconquerable." It's much the same as the attitude of Americans who fight to bring democracy to lesser peoples. The Brits are quite different; Hall typifies their attitude as "Tommy shoulders his rifle and departs for the four corners of the world on a bloomin' fine 'oliday! A railway journey and a sea voyage in one! Blimey! Not 'arf bad, wot?"
Yet, such men walked into one of the bloodiest wars in history. In 1964 - 1973, the U.S. had 58,193 deaths in the Vietnam War. In one morning on the Somme, the Brits lost 60,000 dead. Who today would think of being sent to Iraq, where 4,000 Americans have lost their lives in five years, as "a bloomin' fine 'oliday"?
Hall describes daily life in the trenches, where he manned a machine gun and was told never to fire it unless countering a German attack. Otherwise, it would be quickly spotted and ferociously shelled. He explains, "W'en you goes out at night to 'ave a go at Fritzie, you always tykes yer gun sommers else. If you don't, you'll 'ave Minnie an' Busy Bertha an' all the rest o' the Krupp children comin' over to see w'ere you live."
It's Hall's first book. He later gained well-deserved fame with Charles Nordhoff in writing 'Mutiny on the Bounty' and other books about Tahiti and the South Pacific. This book, written at the age of 33 and before he became famous, may be his most relaxed, informal, authentic and best work. It's a worthy tribute to 'Kitchener's Mob' and all those who call themselves Brits.