New Uses Made for Personal Letters Written Home During Wartime





From hand-written letters from the American civil war to e-mails from Afghanistan and Iraq, letters written during conflicts give great insight into life on the front lines - history, as recorded by soldiers and civilians.

As war becomes ever more hi-tech, fewer and fewer people will have first-hand experience of a life lived on the front lines. The emotions experienced run the gamut from fear to excitement and even hilarity - and it is these emotions that are detailed in that most personal of missives, the letter to a loved one.

These intimate messages are increasingly recognised as just as important a source of information as weighty research and official documents.

And a new book, Behind the Lines, by US archivist Andrew Carroll, brings together correspondence as old as hand-written letters from the American Revolution and as fresh as e-mails from Baghdad.

The way these are written are very much of their time, but the events and emotions experienced are universal. Here, a young American soldier describes tracking down German soldiers in France during World War Two.


"We ran into three Jerries in the farmyard, one of whom tried to hide in a half-filled rain barrel, of all places. I'll never forget the neat triangle of holes Joe's tommy gun put in that barrel!"
His triumph quickly gives way to more complicated emotions.


"I was almost hypnotised as I watched the water change gradually pink and then red as it spouted out the oaken bullet holes.
As we started off across the fields I glanced back at the rain barrel.... A large rooster, which had disappeared in a flurry of feathers such a short time ago, now crowed defiantly at the world."
This letter captures the ambivalence many soldiers past and present feel, says Mr Carroll. "These guys are not gung-ho. To take a human life is an extraordinary thing."



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