I meant to blog about an article from Saturday's National Post which caught my eye, but forgot somehow, and was reminded anew by my blogpal Becky, who also blogged about this article. Small world!
For some reason, perhaps because my family hails from the UK, or because my mother was one of those kids sent overseas during WWII in order to avoid Hitler (she was 4, her sister was 5, imagine that), or because my maternal grandfather was a soldier in the war, I have always had a certain fascination in reading about personal war-time experiences from WWI and WWII. Reading detailed battle accounts, hmm, not so much, although we all willingly gathered night after night to watch father and son duo Peter and Dan Snow and their peculiarly British production Battlefield Britain (Max was studying the Battle of Hastings in his Famous Men of the Middle Ages work and this DVD series gives a dramatic re-enactment, handy for your average 10 year old boy). Reading individual stories or letters from someone involved in the war, or watching dramatic reproductions on TV, though, is another matter altogether. My kids and I sat spellbound through PBS's wonderful 1900's House, Channel 4's equally gripping but very bleak 1940's House, and now I'm reading a book I happened upon in our local Sally Ann, called Mrs. Milburn's Diaries: An Englishwoman's Day-to-Day Reflections 1939-45. Mrs. Milburn, from what little I've read so far, did not experience the war quite as desperately as did the characters in 1940's House, but it's a great read, if only to see the unending stiff upper lip the Brits are famous for.
So, anyhow, I was quite intrigued to see this article in the Post, entitled "History in real time." By the way, for reasons I do not understand, the original article, taken from The Daily Telegraph, is not in the Post's archives, but the link (which I borrowed from Becky's article, thanks Becky!) is the same article that appeared in the Post. Like Mrs. Milburn's grandson-in-law, who found her diaries in a long-forgotten box in the attic and managed to publish them, Bill Lamin, of Cornwall, decided to post his grandfather's war-time letters home, but instead of publishing them in a book, Bill Lamin is using the blog format. Even more interestingly, he's publishing them in real time, which makes for somewhat excruciating reading if you are like me and want to know the end already. It's impressive and poignant to see how stoic Private Harry Lamin was in his letters. Here is one excerpt, dated 3rd October, 1917:
"Just a line to let you know I’m going on all right...what do you think Fritz came over about 5 o’clock next morning...but we beat him off...they brought liquid fire with them and bombs and all sorts...and the captain got killed a jolly good fellow too...We have just been given a long trousers again as we have had had Short ones all summer. I hope you are going on alright as was pleased to hear you are keeping in good health"
Mr. Lamin has compiled all the readers' comments into another blog, that you can access via a link on the blog page, and even that makes for engrossing reading. One reader dug up a record (?!) about Private Lamin's son Arthur, for whom there seemed to be no records and was presumed to have died in infancy.
I'll leave you to read about Private Lamin's war-time experiences on your own, and close with an excerpt from Mrs. Milburn's diary. In keeping with Mr. Lamin's habit, I'll use an excerpt with today's date:
Tuesday, 7th January (1941)
A peaceful night as far as air raids went, but alas for the Master of the House - a cold and chill through the night and then a great upheaval in the early morning. Very poorly indeed, poor dear, so we rang up the doctor-man and kept him in bed all day on a very light diet.