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Posted on Jan 13, 2004 in War College

Letters Home

By R.J. Mooney

In every war soldiers have always written home to their families, wives and girlfriends. It’s something we naturally assume that happens in wartime. In 1914, when the "Defense of the Realm Act" passed, soldiers began to have their mail censored. All correspondence had to be read by junior officers before it was delivered. As a direct result, most of the "News from the front" went unheard. The reality of warfare was silenced from the masses. The two feet of mud that lay in the trench, littered with rats and bodies. The dysentery, body lice and trench foot were not spoken of. Some letters were actually sent home uncensored, because junior officers were so shaken by what they had read.

I have researched these letters and have found some to be very profound. They give a shocking glimpse into the world of trench warfare.

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These following are excerpts from letters I have encountered in my research.

1) Private H. F. Leppard of East Grinstead wrote a letter to his mother on 19th December, 1914. The letter was not censored.

"The soldiers at the front need more rest. While in the trenches the water is over our knees most of the time. The war is going to last some time yet, and might be another twelve months before it is over. The war has only just begun and it’s going to be a war of exhaustion. After the regular armies have done their work it means that all the young lads at home being trained and disciplined and will take our place in the field. The sooner people understand this, the better it will be for the nation."

(2) Private Stanley Terry of 15 North End, East Grinstead, wrote a letter to his family in November, 1915. The letter was not censored. 

"We have just come out of the trenches after being in for six days and up to our waists in water. While we were in the trenches one of the Germans came over to our trench for a cigarette and then back again, and he was not fired at. We and the Germans started walking about in the open between the two trenches, repairing them, and there was no firing at all. I think they are all getting fed up with it."

(3) Letter from Roland Leighton to Vere Brittain.

"Among this chaos of twisted iron and splintered timber and shapeless earth are the fleshless, blackened bones of simple men who poured out their red, sweet wine of youth unknowing, for nothing more tangible than Honour or their Country’s Glory or another’s Lust of Power. Let him who thinks that war is a glorious golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking Honour and Praise and Valour and Love of Country; let him look at a little pile of sodden gray rags that covers half a skull, and a shin bone and what might have been his ribs; or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half-crouching as it fell, supported on one arm, perfect but that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped around it; and let him realize how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all Youth and Joy and Life into a foetid heap of hideous putrescence."

(4) Private James Mitchell of 7 Church Lane, East Grinstead, wrote a letter to his father on 17th October, 1914. The letter was censored.

"We started away just after dawn from our camp and I think it was about an hour later that we encountered the enemy. They were on the opposite side of the valley and as we came over the brow of the hill they opened on us with rifle fire and shrapnel from about 900 yards. We lost three officers and about 100 men killed and wounded in that half hour. I do not want any more days like that one.

As I sit here and try to place myself in their boots, I cringe to think that my words would never reach my family. I would like to think that the letters sent from our forces that are now engaged in a war would not be censored?

My deepest respect to all men who have fought in every war,

R.J. Mooney

(This section of the letter was censored). Anyway we drove the Germans back and held them there for eight days. I cannot tell you all I should like to, as it would never reach you."

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