Book Review: A Rifleman Went to War

Herbert McBride was a American who grew up learning to shoot from Civil War veterans and some of the big names of the American West, like Bat Masterson. He had a taste for adventure, and spent time scouting for railroads and searching for gold in Alaska. He had tried to ship out to South Africa to join the British forces in the Boer War, but was disappointed to find that only British subjects could do so. When World War I broke out, he was determined not to miss another opportunity to get into a scrap, as he would say.

McBride resigned his Captain’s commission in the Indian Legion (National Guard), and joined the Canadian army as a buck private. He was assigned to a machine gun crew, and shipped over to France, where he spent most of the war in hard combat – and thoroughly enjoyed it.

After returning, he wrote (at the behest of friends and acquaintances) A Rifleman Went to War, which remains to this day one of the best descriptive and practical accounts of combat from the front-line infantryman. McBride was an expert marksman, and did his share of sniping as well as machine gun fighting, trench raiding with bayonet and hand grenade, and scouting. The book is a discussion of mindset and tools in war, and is an excellent read for anyone interested in an unapologetic and enthusiastic discussion of firsthand warfare.

A Rifleman Went to War is available from Amazon (this is the version with a brief introduction by Col. Jeff Cooper) in hardback, paperback, and Kindle – take your pick:


  1. I have it on Kindle, I’m reading it right now. Fantastic details of WWI and the infantryman’s lot! So far, a great read!

  2. McBride wanders into areas of experience and judgment that I find fascinating: He comments that the Canadian army woolen (!) underwear was the finest he ever wore, and could not find anything as good since even on the civilian market. I presume it was itchless. The tactic of establishing a sniper’s post in front of, not in, an obviously inviting location kept McBride and his fellows alive through the war (the Germans would shell the villa, or wall, behind his actual, well-hidden shooting location) and is a detail I’d never heard of. His condemnation of the atrocities and “lack of fair play” by the Germans — the WWI German army! — tells us that Nazism was just a distillation of a character streak that lay there all the time. His predictions were not always correct, and his recommendations not always on-point, but this is a valuable book and I heard of it here first. Thanks to Mr. M.

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