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6th Brigade Canadian Machine Gun Company
Letters & Personal Diaries
Contemporary accounts of wartime experiences, in the form of letters, diaries or reminiscences, provide a valuable means for detailed examine of the lives of the men who fought on the front, particularly when viewed in the light of over eight decades of academic analysis since the Great War.

Strict official censorship of all letters from the front, usually means that detailed accounts of battles are absent.  Descriptions of living conditions were generally sanitized, although this was as much a result of self-censorship as that of the official variety.  Talk of the awful conditons which they had to endure would only have worried their families back home, so it was best not to mention them at all.  It is usually possible, however, to read between the lines, particularly when one has the good fortune of a series of letters from an individual soldier.  It is obvious too, from the tone of some homeward-bound reports, that the authors didn't want to think about the war, let alone relish an attempt to put their feelings down in words.

Personal diaries were forbidden by the authorities, although that didn't stop some from using a few stolen moments to make furtive entries.  Some of those which have survived, often written by ordinary folk with little previous literary experience, record everyday wartime events in the vivid, raw detail of simplicity, and with obvious passion and sincerity.  Such unedited relics are rare, however.

Reminiscences, some admittedly compiled on the basis of diaries, have both the advantages of hindsight and disadvantages of time and fading memories.  However, they too can be very useful, provided one bears in mind their inherent limitations.

It is hoped that this collection of first-hand accounts of the machine-gunners' war will help balance the often almost arid accounts of the unit's history laid out in the formal war diaries.  Wading through umpteen pages of chat about life and family back in Canada may sometimes feel tedious, but it helps to establish a feeling for the character of the author.  Seemingly unimportant comments later made about the war may then take on much greater significance.  I hope you will find, as I did, much of interest and inspiration in these personal, and often private, accounts from ordinary people of their everyday experiences, in what were most extraordinary times.


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