The Book of War Letters: 100 Years of Private Canadian Correspondence
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.
The Book of War Letters contains about 200 letters from 20th-century
military personnel serving in situations from the Boer War to
peacekeeping in Afghanistan. A commentary by the editors on each war or
mission gives the letters context. The compilation is a remarkable
There are three striking things about the letters generally: their
literary merit, their “raw and unreserved character,” and what the
authors wrote about. They wrote about action and combat, their
attitudes, and the social situation in the war. They also wrote about
society, the milieu, and the natural environment, usually strange and
foreign to them, in which they worked and functioned.
Generally, there were two conditioning factors for the letters: the
military censors and the sensibilities of those to whom they wrote,
usually family or friends back home. The sheer volume of mail and the
complexities of the censorship system meant that much was communicated
that ought to have been withheld, so that the picture of military events
and attitudes was far more candid than might be expected. The degree of
authenticity and veracity also depended on the recipient: friends and
fathers tended to get more of the real thing than mothers and lovers.
The Book of War Letters is important both as history in its own right
and as the raw material for future historians.