Mastodon The Writing Desk: Book Review: Whispering Walls: First World War Graffiti, by David Crossland

29 May 2023

Book Review: Whispering Walls: First World War Graffiti, by David Crossland

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The soldiers of the First World War left a little-known legacy in forgotten caves along the Western Front: thousands of inscriptions and wall carvings that tell stories of courage, pride, hope and fear.Limestone quarries and bunkers along the front lines in north-eastern France, where the men sheltered, have been rediscovered by 
archaeologists in recent years.

As well as inscriptions on the walls of churches and farm buildings, there are over four hundred caves in Hautes-de-France region of north-eastern France (formerly Picardy) which have graffiti left by soldiers of the First World War serving on the Western Front. Thousands of men took the trouble to leave their name and number, some even carving entire altars from the limestone walls. 

Many were in their teens, and must have been wondering about their chances of survival. Some of the caves inevitably changed hands with the ebb and flow of trench warfare. There are examples of French names next to some in German - and both sides seem to have respected the inscriptions of the other.

I was interested in how it has been possible to trace actual individuals using recently digitised records. Perhaps some of these young men hoped their handiwork would help ensure they are not forgotten.

Whispering Walls guides the reader through some of the most striking graffiti, inscriptions and carvings, and is illustrated with over a hundred photographs that hint at stories of courage, hope and fear.

David Crossland's fascination with this fragile legacy of a bitter conflict shines through in this intriguing book which I recommend to anyone with an interest in the stories of the men who fought in the First World War.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

David Crossland was born in Bonn to British parents, and has been a journalist and photographer, covering German and European affairs with a focus on history and the far right. He is based in Berlin and has been visiting the Western Front  for over twenty years, and has written extensively about the First World War. Find out more from David's website and find him on Twitter @DavidCrossland3

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