The First Casualty

Written by Ben Elton
Review by Gwen Sly

In 1917 England was not only fighting the Great War in France but was also witnessing a period of industrial unrest at home. Socialism was rising not only in the country but also amongst the soldiers at the front. The French army had mutinied after Verdun, and the Allies were awaiting the arrival of the Americans, who were slow in committing themselves to the cause of halting the German advance.

In a Europe gone mad, it was only Inspector Douglas Kingsley of Scotland Yard who disapproved of the War, believing it to be destroying the very Britain being fought for. Imprisoned for his conscientious objection and labelled a coward, he is wanted dead by every criminal he jailed. Surprisingly released, he is sent to France during the third battle for Ypres to investigate the murder of a national hero. He finds himself conducting his enquiries through the hell of battle, where witnesses to the crime are quite literally disappearing into the mud of Flanders.

Ben Elton writes a flawless story of intellectual arrogance facing its worst nightmare whilst attempting to define a semblance of justice in the face of unimaginable daily slaughter. It seems unbelievable to us now what millions of men and a few women experienced during the years 1914-18, but Elton, through careful research, graphically reconstructs the horrors of the Western Front with an earthy eloquence.