Review: German Soldier Newspapers of the First World War (Nelson)

nelson cover

German Soldier Newspapers of the First World War.

This book examines an important part of the German Great War soldier’s life: the trench newspaper.

The author contrasts German soldier newspapers with those of the French and British, and finds significant differences in content and approach. He contests the idea that trench newspapers were primarily propaganda promulgated by the upper echelons. He also points out differences between German trench newspapers on the Western and Eastern Fronts. I disagree with some of his interpretations of German thought; for example, he seems to be reluctant to credit the Germans with an ability to express irony or to make nuanced jokes.

The book is organized according to cultural themes that the author found in trench journalism. The pictures which appear throughout the text are illustrations reproduced from various editions of the newspapers. The index is scanty, but there is a lengthy bibliography, and the text is heavily footnoted. An appendix lists titles of German soldier newspapers, which makes it simple to find the excellent scanned digital archives of the trench newspapers that are now available online.

To preview some of the author’s ideas about this topic, you can access a lengthy journal article here or here. Visit his website here.

This work constitutes a publication of Nelson’s dissertation, so the book and all of its chapters (sometimes even subsections of the chapters) are organized like university term papers: “tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, and tell ’em what you told ’em.” But for all its repetitiveness, it’s still a good resource about an aspect of trench life that rarely makes it into memoirs and history books.

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