Review: Both Sides of the Wire by William Cull

Both Sides of the Wire

by William Cull

edited by Aaron Pegram

Captain William Cull fought the first World War from both sidfes of the wire. As a young infantry officer on the Allied side of the Western Front, Cull frequently led patrols out into No Man’s Land and raids on the German trenches. He took part in bitter fighting on the Somme at Pozières, and in February 1917 was severely wounded in a futile attack on the German trenches near Warlencourt, where he was taken prisoner by the Germans. Having survived the ordeal of battle, Cull spent the remainder of the war on the German side of the wire.

The first half of Both Sides of the Wire is an action-packed account of Cull’s war on the Western Front in the months leading up to his capture. The second half is a candid portrayal of his experiences as a prisoner of war in the hands of the Germans. Cull endured many months of agony as he recovered in prison camps in occupied France and Germany – surviving in spite of German doctors’ early predictions that he would not survive his first night in captivity.

This book is based on the memoir At All Costs that Cull wrote in the months after his repatriation to Australia in October 1918.

Aaron Pegram is a historian at the Australian War Memorial. He has written the introduction, epilogue and notes for Cull’s memoir, which remains one of the very few published accounts of captivity in Germany during the First World War.

This book is very gripping in its recount of the First World War, it is essentially a no hole’s barred, impersonal memoir of the events that the story teller went through during his time fighting the German’s. It doesn’t seek any glory at all, just sets the facts down as he saw (or remembered) them happening, and for me, personally this made the story more disastrous, stronger and sadder.

Captain William Cull was by all accounts a very capable soldier, who was able to lead his men into the throws of battle and be able to keep their respect and admiration. He does mention a few times how much he despaired at being taken captive, as it was a common belief that if you were taken prisoner that you had failed your country. And due to the fact that he had been taken prisoner he automatically became ineligible to receive any medals for his service prior to the capture, which I found appalling on behalf of the government.

He was severely injured just prior to his capture and was extremely lucky that he didn’t die either at the time or shortly after being taken to the German hospital. He recounts how nice some of his doctor’s where, and also details how brutal that others where, he describes one scene of a doctor cleaning his wounds that made me feel sick to my stomach. These injuries stayed with him to the end of his day (he died at the age of only 44, and was repatriated from Germany’s ‘care’ at the age of 24) and from his description of how horrific they were I don’t think there was much that coud have been initially done at the time.  However any amount of bedside care could have done much to alleviate his pain and infection if more care had been undertaken by his enemies.

This is a devastating, and haunting tale that gives a really graphic account of an horrendous time in our history.

My only disappointment with the book was that there were quite a few unnecessary editorial mistakes, thought typed instead of through etc, and this happened enough to be a distraction for me.

Favourite extract: I sent out first a light patrol, which returned in about an hour and reported that all the indications showed that the Huns were holding the line in considerable strength, and that their front was heavily covered with wire. This was reported to Headquarters, who almost immediately ordered that a strong patrol be sent out with instructions to penetrate the enemy line. No reasons were given for this extraordinary direction, beyond the remark that if only one man got back with the necessary information it was worth the sacrifice…

Published by Allen and Unwin

Recommended Retail Price $27.99

Recommended Age: 18+

My Rating: 3.5/5


2 Responses to Review: Both Sides of the Wire by William Cull

  1. Caroline Seecamp says:

    Have you read the original ‘At All Costs’, how would you compare the original with ‘Both Sides Of The Wire’?

    • Hi Caroline,

      No I haven’t read the original, but I was of the understanding that this was the original re-edited with Aaron Pegram just introducing it and adding extra notes and info at the end. I could be wrong though!

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