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The Secret Battle


A. P. Herbert


Austin Riede, Ph.D.



Print Version



The Secret Battle should be read in each generation, so that men and women may rest under no illusion about what war means, a soldier’s tale cut in stone to melt all hearts.”

—Sir Winston Churchill

Originally published in 1919, The Secret Battle honestly portrays the mental horrors World War I inflicted upon soldiers. Harry Penrose is an Oxford student who enlists in 1914. He’s hard working, modest, and dutiful but struggles to cope with the toll of war. During the Battle of Gallipoli, Penrose seeks refuge to avoid shellfire, but another officer sees him and accuses Penrose of desertion. Court martialed and branded a coward, Penrose is betrayed by the very system for which he fought.

Though not autobiographical, Penrose and the narrator follow experiences of author A. P. Herbert, who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign. Penrose’s trial is likely based on that of Sub-Lieutenant Edwin Dyett, an officer who was court martialed and executed for desertion in 1916. Considered a literary masterpiece, The Secret Battle is an early example of war literature, showcasing the importance of a soldier’s mind as well as his body, and deserves “a permanent place in war literature” (Winston Churchill, from the 1988 Oxford University Press edition).

About the Author

A. P. Herbert was an English novelist, humorist, and politician. He served as an officer with the Royal Naval Division during World War I and fought in the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. Herbert began writing The Secret Battle while on medical leave in England in 1919. He was knighted in 1945 and made a Companion of Honour in 1970.

About the Editor

Austin Riede is an associate professor at the University of North Georgia, specializing in British modernism. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011. He has published articles on Ford Madox Ford’s novels The Good Soldier and Parade’s End; Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir Testament of Youth; and the elegiac wartime poetry of W. B. Yeats. Riede’s areas of expertise include British Literature, Modernism, World War I Literature, Film, and Science Fiction.

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