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There were five of them in the trenches

There were five of them in the trenches during the First World War, officers or ordinary soldiers, they would survive this unprecedented conflict and become major figures of the Second World War. These five men who follow Philippe Conrad and Nicolas Sevaux are none other than De Gaulle, Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill and Patton. This book plunges us into a fascinating part of their life that is often less well known than their role during 39-45.

Men forged by the Great War

We know the leader of Free France, the Führer of the Reich, the Duce of fascist Italy, the British Prime Minister and the famous American general renowned in the armored army ... But what do we know of these great figures of the Second World War a few years earlier, during the First World War? Often little, their huge role in 39-45 eclipsed the rest. So in this centenary period Philippe Conrad (historian, seminar director at the Joint Defense College) and Nicolas Sevaux (journalist) propose to come back to these great figures during this landmark event of the twentieth century which has sometimes largely guided their later positions.

The major interest of this book is to show us the continuity between the two world conflicts, led in part by the same men who take advantage of their experience. With this continuity from 1914 to 1945 we can largely take up the recent concept of the “New Thirty Years War”, as if in the end 1919-1939 had only been a truce in the war led by Germany.

This first warrior experience is for many of them overwhelming and we discover, or we see appearing, in them elements that may partly explain their behavior to come. We find in the future founder of the Fifth Republic this ardent patriotism, this touch of aristocratic pride and paradoxically this mistrust of the republican regime ... We see in the journalist of the Italian left developing a real capacity to mobilize the masses and the dazzling death of all pacifist convictions ... We see in the solitary Austrian amateur of Schopenhauer born this indifference in the face of mass death, this rejection of the political and journalistic elites and this certainty of being dedicated to a great mission almost mystical...

A book accessible to all

This reissue of a book from the 1990s is clearly accessible to the greatest number. Relatively short (110 pages), it is made up of five biographical notes followed by five brief chronologies reviewing the lives of the three personalities followed. Finally, the work ends with a photographic corpus of around thirty pages including, of course, photos of the characters mentioned during the First World War, but also additional documents such as a page from the internment register of Captain De Gaulle in Bavaria. or the beautiful watercolors made by Corporal Hitler ...

In an accessible style and well illustrated with maps, the biographical notes should allow everyone to easily follow these five paths. However, we may regret the absence of a bibliography: faced with the many quotations from letters often truncated, the curious reader will not immediately know where to find the original and complete texts, which is quite damaging for a historical work.

In other words, a fascinating and well-constructed little book, but will leave the reader a little alone when the latter wants to continue his research.

Philippe Conrad & Nicolas Sevaux, They were five in the trenches, Heimdal, 2014.

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