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Private Peat

by Harold R. Peat
235 pages, Biography/History
Reviewed by Ariel_of_Narnia

An easy-to-read, optimistic account of a Canadian soldier during WWI. Some mild swearing.

Plot

Peat hadn't intended to join the Army, but when his pal did, this small-built Canadian joined up too. Training, long transports, friendships, memorable officers and civilians, comradeship, and trench life: this is World War I through his eyes.

Morality

"Kindness, unselfishness, and sympathy are all engendered by trench life." There is plenty of camaraderie and humor. Soldiers will do anything they can to cheer a fellow, no matter the circumstance. There is also a fighting spirit, a never-quit attitude, and acts of valor.

"We wear the same uniform, we think the same thoughts, we do not remember what we were, we only know what we are -- soldiers fighting in the same great cause." Peat speaks highly of fellow Allies, no matter the nationality (indeed, he pulls out virtues found in each one) and of the civilians he met. He stands up for the British when he returns to the West and hears of their negative reports concerning them.

For good or ill, he makes many contrasts between the two sides of the war, which are likely (and understandably) biased to some extent or another. Peat and three others take and eat a chicken, much to the understandable displeasure of said chicken's owner. They are later told the rules and the consequences for disobedience. Elsewhere, Peat and a few others go someplace they were instructed not to.

Spiritual Content

Peat mentions Hitler's "God of blood and iron" as opposed to the Allies' "Unseen Hand (God) which held back the enemy in his might". Elsewhere, he speaks of true charity, "imbued with the spirit of Him who said, 'I was hungered and you gave me meat.'" There is a comparison of war to religion, especially when Peat speaks of East Indian soldiers. At one point, two chaplains wish to enter a restricted area to tend to the wounded, stating that they have orders from a Higher Authority to go. Denominations are mentioned, but hardly come into play in the grand scheme of things.

Peat says that "if any minister of the gospel - except our chaplain - had been standing around [at the camp], he might well have thought from the sulfurous perfume of the air that every soldier was doomed to everlasting Hades." One soldier says that the British civilians treated the Canadian soldiers like "little tin gods". Peat mentions a captain that they liked so much that "later we almost worshipped him." Another soldier says of an officer that he'd follow him "into Hell and them some".

Peat seems to have a vision or mental image of Jesus on the cross with a look of compassion on His face. There is a reference to Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones.

The term "Mother Earth" is used a couple times. There is reference to a "war god's lust for blood". A couple Canadian groups are nicknamed "the ladies from Hell" and "the little black Devils from Winnipeg". The back of the book also offers the "Soldier's Ten Commandments", which is a war-time parody of the Scriptural Commandments.

Violence

There is mention of war violence and instructions, battle wounds, illnesses and infections, blood, and marching pains. A teen girl Peat meets is missing her family and half an arm, thanks to German brutality; he sees more of the same later. A couple buildings Peat is in are shelled. During a march, a shell kills a number of men. The way charges were structured could mean that whole groups of twenty to thirty men could be obliterated by a single shell. Gas is also released and a brief description of its effects are related. An Indian soldier pricks his finger with his knife. It is said that Indians would sometimes strike off enemy heads. Three men were crucified by Germans; Peat mentions having seen one of the bodies and knowing a man who has a photograph of the three crucified to a barn. Peat relates his own wounding and the death of one of the men with him. Some soldiers threaten to kill themselves rather than surrender; they don't.

All of the above is toned-down. Peat treats it as a statement of fact and then moves on, rather than elaborating.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Smoking is mentioned several times and is noted to be especially heavy right before a charge as it calms the nerves and gives the men something to do with their hands.

Part of the daily rations is a tablespoon of rum "as a medicine, as a stimulant"; soldiers can choose to decline this. One of the army's rules is that no one can get drunk. Peat also mentions that the biggest drunkard would return from the war a sober man.

Sexual Content

Peat sees pregnant teen girls. Though he doesn't say as much, it can be assumed that with his including "outrages against women" in his list of war effects, that these girls were not married.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Misuse of "God" four times. "Blimey" is uttered twice, once paired with "gor." "Gosh", "good lord!", and "lor" once each. "God in Heaven!" as an exclamation twice. "Thank God" thrice.

"D--n" is said twice and is bleeped out in print two other times; once paired with "gol." "H-ll" is said about half a dozen times and is once bleeped out. Someone is referred to as an "a--".
Peat says that "cussing is only a small part of a soldier's life"; as such, swearing is mentioned a few times, though only spelled out as above. The "Soldier's Ten Commandments" at the end of the book say that profane language is only permitted in extraordinary circumstances, such as when a comrade is shot down or when one finds coal oil in his tea.

Conclusion

"I am 'out of it' (out of the war), but out with memories of good fellowship, real comrades, kindness, sympathy, and friendships that dim the recollection of death, of destruction, of blood, of outrage, of murder and brutality."

That quote pretty well sums up this book. It has such an optimistic tone to it, I wonder if Peat suffered any PTSD at all! It is an enjoyable, easy read filled with a soldier's recollections of everything from playing poker while shells explode feet away to a man caring for fifteen refugees to charging across no-man's land to the enemy trenches. The only trouble lies in the mild swearing that crops up here and there.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 4.5
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

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