Robert Graves is considered one of England's pre-eminent war poets - one of a group of young men whose poetry written in the trenches of France during World War One came to symbolize the awfulness of the conditions that they were sent to fight in, and documented the wartime experiences of soldiers in a way that no factual history books ever really could.
Graves was unusual in that his experiences did not affect his mental health; fellow soldier Siegfriend Sassoon suffered terribly from post traumatic stress disorder, at one time refusing to return to the front, and also spending time in a mental health institution with other soldiers diagnosed with "shell shock." Good-Bye to All That is an autobiographical novel that gives the reader a detailed description of trench warfare, including the incompetence of the generals whose battle plans and strategies resulted in the tragic disaster that was the Battle of Loos, and the relentless fighting that decimated the allied troops in the first phase of the Somme Offensive which took place in the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The intention was to bring about a quicker victory for the Allies, but it had the opposite effect, killing more than one million men and injuring half a million others.
Graves was injured in the Somme Offensive and his wounds were so bad that he was reported dead in error. When Graves realized this, he put an advertisement in the newspaper to correct this. The book also alleges atrocities committed by the British troops against the captured German soldiers. This was mainly word of mouth on Graves' behalf, since he witnessed no such atrocities, This in particular angered former friend Edmund Blunden, who contradicted much of the text in the margin of his personal copy. His annotated book can still be seen today at the New York Public Library.
Sassoon was also angered by the book, although he cared less about the details, and more about the depiction of himself, and his family, which he considered unkind and inaccurate. Graves even managed to alienate his own father, Alfred Perceval Graves, who wrote and published an entire refutation of his son's book, entitling it To Return To All That.
After writing and publishing the book at the ripe old age of thirty-four, Graves left England, feeling that he was not in line with accepted thinking anymore. He questioned the accepted version of patriotism, which seemed to him to be blindly following generals who were woefully unaware of the reality of the situation facing their soldiers on the ground. The book was well-received at the time of its publication because of Graves' way of poking fun at the banalities that seemed to be pivotal to British life, and his vaguely comedic interpretation of his experiences as an officer in the Fusiliers. He became famous amongst his fans and notorious amongst his critics, earning a great deal of money for the time.
Good-bye to All That is one of three of Graves' works that has never fallen out of print, and later went back to his scholarly roots by penning the I, Claudius series of novels that were adapted for television in the nineteen seventies, whilst Graves was still alive.
On November 11th, 1985, Graves was one of sixteen Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner. On the stone is an inscription by Graves' friend, Wilfred Owen. At the time of the unveiling of the stone, Graves was the only one of the sixteen poets honored by it who was still living. Although happy to accept this literary honor, and to posthumously honor his friends, Graves turned down a Commander of the British Empire Award in 1957.