Yes, the book that inspired me to start this blog in July 2012 is now out, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. When I was asked to write Letters from the Trenches by Pen and Sword Books I knew very little about the primary sources that were available and I assumed I would be making trips to archives, museums and libraries to dig around in their collections. But no. The vast majority of my material came from ordinary people whose families had passed letters, diaries and photos down through the generations, and who got in touch because they wanted their stories told, and their relatives remembered.
And that gives you an idea about the sort of book it is. 'Letter from the Trenches' tells the story of 'everyman' - men, women and children just like us who lived through four extraordinary years of conflict.
History has a tendency to 'compartmentalise' and, as a result, the First World War in often talked about in terms of themes: plucky 'munitionettes', innocent volunteers sent to the slaughter, self-sacrificing Red Cross nurses, poets who railed against trench warfare, conscientious objectors who stood their ground and refused to fight.
But reality, of course, was very different ... as my book shows.
- For every plucky 'munitionette' there was a mother at home fretting about how she would cope without her husband: ‘If only our little homes and our children’s welfare could be made secure. How many happy mothers would be able to bear the separation better, and how many soldiers would gladly do their bit the more contentedly?’
- For every quietly-serving Red Cross nurse there was another with a mind of her own: ‘Went round with a nurse who did dressings, I put on bandages, one awful one on groin (disgusting) did it badly.’
- For every volunteer whose life was lost needlessly, there was another who found the war was exactly what he had been looking for : 'Please don’t think I am unhappy or miserable I am just the reverse and enjoying all the fun.'
- For every conscientious objector who refused to fight, there were far more who kept their objections to themselves: ‘I am sorry to tell you I am going to France on Monday next, quick work isn’t it?’
- And for every poet who shed light on the horror of the trenches, there was another eloquent soldier who accepted the way things were and even tried to see the funny side: 'What dugouts there are, are flooded with mud and water up to the knees and the rats hold swimming galas in them.'
This is the way things really were. And it's only when we understand that those who lived through the Great War were not a different, stoical, noble breed, but people just like us, that we can comprehend what they really went through.
I hope you enjoy the book.