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The Secret Battle

A. P. Herbert

Book Overview: 

Like many soldiers at the beginning of their military careers, Harry Penrose has romantic ideas of climbing the ranks and attaining hero status. However, while stationed at Gallipoli, the realities of war begin to take their toll on Penrose, not only physically, but also mentally where the war has become a 'battle of the mind.' This is his story as related by a fellow soldier, as well as the story of the campaign at Gallipoli which is vividly portrayed from the author's own personal experiences.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Let's find the devil.'

Forthwith he swarmed over the parapet, full of life again, nosed about till he found the reeking thing, and gazed on it with undisguised interest. No sign of horror or disgust could I detect in him. Yet it was not pure ghoulishness; it was simply the boy's greed for experience and the savour of adventure. Anyhow, my experiment had failed; and I found that I was glad. But when I was leaving him for the next platoon, he was lying down for a little sleep on the dirty floor of the trench, and as he flashed his electric torch over the ground, I saw several small white objects writhing in the dust. The company commander whom we had relieved had told me how under all these trenches the Turks and the French had buried many of their dead, and in a moment of nauseating insight I knew that these things were the maggots which fed upon their bodies.

'Harry,' I said, 'you can't sleep there; look at those things!' And I told him what they were.Read More

Community Reviews

A powerful and moving account of the life of a junior infantry officer during the Great War. Published in 1919 the novel draws on Herbert's own experiences in the conflict. Although the narrative can sometimes feel a little dated by modern standards it has an immediacy that is obviously informed...more

I found this as powerful on its second reading, years after the first time I opened it, as it was then. It's a timeless masterpiece about the effects of war on a sensitive, educated young officer. The narrative is unadorned and simple, as a friend tells of the battle within the victim-hero overwh...more


An account of life of an infantry officer of the Great War, as literature but based on personal experience. The book was said to have influenced Churchill and other profoundly. It deals with how a brave, dutiful officer can nonetheless end up being shot for cowardice. It explores som...more

Proof of the fact that as early as that people grasped the meaning of shell-shock/PTSD and how much the army doctrines were resented.

I'm more likely to read James or even George Herbert than A.P....this was a 'Dad's Bookshelf' find on a rainy afternoon. But what a fascinating book, wonderfully vivid in its evocation of somewhere I'm so glad I wasn't at. It's all here - some marvellous descriptive writing, heart-rending insight...more

War sucks.

If there's a central message to this book, that's it: war sucks. There is no glory in war. War may be inevitable, it may even be necessary, but it is not good and it is not glorious. And no one who goes into war ever comes out unscathed.

This book was first published in 1919, soon after...more

This was very good. It really seemed more like a memoir than a novel--I wonder to what degree it was autobiographical? It really gave me a sense of what Gallipoli must have been like, as well as how men must have dealt with fear. A heart-breaking, but not unexpected, ending

As a writer A.P. Herbert was known for his comic work. This, however, his first book, is an altogether darker affair.

The Secret Battle, published in 1919, might be the first of the British novels/memoirs of the First World War. It tells the story of a high strung young soldier called Harry Penro...more

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