Paul B'umer narrates the story entitled ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’,
where the German army faces French, British and American forces during World War I.
Paul and several of his school friends were inspired by their teacher
Kantorek to enlist in order to fight for the German Fatherland.
Their first ten weeks in the army involved a strict training regime where
they were under the command of a cruel, sadistic Corporal named Himmelstoss. They soon realized that the air of patriotism that had encouraged them to enlist was false, and was soon blown away by the realities
of war. They were soon consumed by a physical terror of what faced them. There was no glory and honor in this war.
Paul was part of a company comprising 150 men.
After two weeks of fighting, this had been reduced to 80. During a short break from the Front, Paul tells us of an incident concerning food to be provided for their company. The cook had provided meals for the full 150 contingent, and the survivors requested that they should receive the rations of their dead comrades. The cook refused as he was under orders to give each man a single ration, but seeing their determination, the cook soon relents.
Paul takes the opportunity to visit one of his former classmates, Kemmerich
who had received a fairly insignificant wound, but this was now gangrenous and it was clear that Kemmerich would soon die. Already desensitized, Paul and another classmate Muller were more concerned about the
fate of Kemmerich’s boots.
We learn that the German troops are poorly supplied, and having a good pair of boots was most important. Paul remains at Kemmerich’s bedside until the young man dies, and his boots are passed to Muller.
Paul is only nineteen years of age, but having survived a comparatively
short period at the Front he has now become a veteran. Even younger recruits arrive at the Front to reinforce Paul’s company.
Paul has become close friends with a forty-year-old soldier whose nickname
He is a scrounger and is able to produce reasonable food from apparently nowhere. Kat has specific views concerning the war. He considers it would be over very quickly if those at the top received the same rations as the ordinary soldier. Kropp, another classmate of Paul, thinks that both sides should do away with their armies and let the nation’s leaders do the fighting.
When the volunteers learn that their cruel instructor Himmelstoss has been
posted to the Front, they decide that they will get their revenge on this sadistic Corporal. They manage to ambush him and they cover him in a sheet and give him a severe beating.
One night Paul and a few others are sent on a mission to lay barbed wire at
They are pounded by artillery and are forced to hide in a graveyard. The severe shelling brings chaos to the burial ground, and the men are forced to lie with the corpses, seeking cover from the shells. The older men at the Front have something to look forward to at the end of the war. They have families and jobs to return to, but Paul and his contemporaries feel isolated. All they know is the war, and they cannot imagine what life would be like outside this theatre.
The resourceful Kat manages to find a house with a goose in it, which they
kill and roast, and they enjoy the rare good meal.
The tremendous loss of life continues and we witness through Paul’s words
the grotesque scenes of trench warfare. The few that survive are given a short reprieve at a Field Depot, and Paul with his few remaining friends goes for a swim and they liaise with a group of French girls.
Paul is granted a period of leave and he goes home to see his family.
He feels strangely awkward, for he is unable to share the trauma he has experienced. His mother is dying of cancer.
He also visits Kemmerich’s mother and lies to her about her son’s death, saying that it was quick and painless.
The school teacher Kantorek has been conscripted and Paul gets some
satisfaction from this news.
Paul comes into contact with some Russian prisoners of war and he soon
realizes that the propaganda regarding the Russians is false. The Russian soldiers are just like him. They are not subhuman enemies.
Paul is then sent back to his company and he is soon backing into the thick
of open warfare. During a chaotic charge, Paul is separated from his comrades and hides in a shell-hole from the artillery. He is soon joined by a French soldier and Paul instinctively stabs and murders
the Frenchman. He is overcome with remorse at having to kill this enemy, but he soon realizes that the two of them are victims of war. Paul looks through the soldier’s personal effects and is able to put
a name to the Frenchman and learns that he is married with a child. Eventually he makes it back to his own lines where he recounts his adventure to his friends who try to console him.
Kat has managed to secure them an easy duty guarding a supply depot away
from the fighting. They are able to enjoy decent rations and valuable time to recoup their energy.
In the next engagement both Paul and Kropp are wounded and they are placed
on the same hospital train.
Unfortunately Kropp has his leg amputated, which means he will never be able to pursue his ambition of being a forester. Paul undergoes surgery for the removal of shrapnel. When he recovers, he returns to the Front Line, but the German army is beginning to give way under the allied pressure.
Paul’s remaining friends are all killed and he is last one left of the
In the autumn of 1918, rumors abound that German will soon surrender.
Paul is again injured, this time through a poisoned gas attack and he knows that this will be a permanent injury that he will not be able to fully recover from.
He is again sent back to the Front Line in October 1918. This time, Paul is killed. Unusually, it was a quiet day in the trenches. The army report for that day reads, “All quiet on the Western Front.”
Observers note that Paul’s expression was one of calm and tranquility.