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.
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.
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.
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
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