January 24, 2014 7:11 pm

In brief

Love Letters of the Great War, edited by Mandy Kirkby, foreword by Helen Dunmore, Macmillan, RRP£9.99, 240 pages

 

Although its title might suggest unremittingly romantic prose, sharpened and heightened by the authors’ separation from their beloveds, Love Letters of the Great War includes much more. In fact, the tone of the letters and poems written by English and German soldiers, wives and girlfriends varies enormously.

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And therein lies the book’s charm. Winston Churchill’s short, calm yet majestic letter, “To be sent to Mrs Churchill in the event of my death”, sits alongside a particularly earthy request sent by a Frau S requesting her husband’s commanding officer “grant him a leave of absence, namely, because of our sexual relationship”.

As Helen Dunmore reminds the reader in a foreword, which contextualises the correspondences, they need to be seen though the prism of censorship, both official and exerted by soldiers themselves. However, no amount of censorship could suppress the raw humanity of these tender missives.

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