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Unlike many books that glorify war, Generals Die in Bed: A Story from the Trenches is a straightforward account of the atrocity and inhumanity of war. The story is told from the perspective of a 20-year-old Harrison, who enlisted as a private with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the early days of the First World War and was promptly whisked to the battlefield of the Western Front. We get a sense of the misery of trench warfare through his writing about hunger, sleep deprivation, terror, ear-splitting noise, rats, lice, corpses, snipers, mud, filth and disease. We feel for the soldiers on both sides: unlike the generals who die in bed, these men "die in a lousy ditch."
The intensity of the battle scenes is relieved in chapters where the narrator is "on rest." Actually, these periods are usually anything but restful, and entail all manner of fatigue duties, or being jostled across the countryside in the back of a lorry on the way to the next battle site. In these passages, the style changes from the stark prose of the trench and battlefield descriptions to insightful reflections and observations, in which the young man tries to cope with the shocks the war has caused.
Originally published in 1930, Generals Die in Bed was acclaimed at the time as one of "the best of the war books" by the New York Evening Standard.