In 1915 a young German boy answered the call of his country. He went to war as a patriot, he came back as a pacifist.
Dead on the Western Front tells the story of Anton Emmerich, an eighteen year old and fresh out of school. Carried on by the wave of hope, expectation and patriotism he signs up for the army to serve his nation as everyone in his generation is expected to do. However the brutality of training sets him up for the nightmare he is about to face in the mud and extreme horror of the trenches of the Western Front.
He is not alone; plenty of friends accompany him and share in his experiences and their friendships only grow stronger through the bond of comradeship even as the shells fall and the bullets fly. But the war is never far away, one by one they fall, succuming to the sheer barbarism of industrial warfare. With each death Anton mourns and a little piece of him dies in this most unemotional of conflicts yet he is trapped, trapped here waiting for his own turn to come.
But it never comes, just more death, more suffering all around him, the smell of putrid corpses, the sound of exploding shells, the sights of his comrades gunned down by unrelenting machine gun fire. He is trapped in an utter nightmare, one where he never thought himself nor anyone else can endure. They never told him that war was like this.
By the end he is still alive but alone. Friends dead, just survivors and hollowed from their experience. He returns home a deeply scarred man in a deeply embittered nation that feels aggrieved at the last four years. Anton too has died emotionally just like everyone else. He is one of a wounded generation that can see no future, his life, their life all criminally destroyed by the great tragedy that is the First World War.