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Blogsong: Posts from the Front in WW1

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Chris Vallance | 14:39 UK time, Wednesday, 6 June 2007

In 1917 28 year-old lace factory worker Harry Lamin, from Ilkeston, Derbyshire left behind his wife and young child and went to serve his country as conscripted soldier in the trenches of the First World War.

We don't know whether Harry made it through to the end of the war, whether he like so many of his countrymen perished in the awful charnel houses of Ypres, in the bloody battles of Messines Ridge or Paschendaele. Like Harry's relatives, his wife, his brother his sister we must anxiously await his letters from the front.

We can share their experience of Harry's war, because his letters have been turned into a blog, by his grandson Bill Lamin a school teacher from Poole. Remember that Bill's father had been born before Harry went to the front, so we can't infer from his grandchildren what fate awaits Harry.

Reading the posts currently on the blog there are some early accounts of action, understated, but giving some hint of the dangers and horrors of the conflict.

We have had a very rough time lately the Germans were only about 40yds away from us, we had a very trying time for the first, but I don’t care so long that I keep alright. It will be a good job when the war is over

But it is the human detail of the letters that annihilates the distance of 90 years between us and Harry:

Jack has sent me some sardines and chicken paste which is all right here and it works the bread and butter down. I am glad Connie is going on alright at school I don’t think it will do her any harm.

The letters are a treasure trove, and blogging them helps us empathise with Harry but also with the family at home in England. Bill's students are very lucky to have this resource, as are all who visit the blog.

It's interesting to compare Harry's epistolary blog with modern Milblogs. I know from writing and talking to Milbloggers that while many are maintained as a means of communicating with relatives and friends, most blog writers are acutely aware that they are publishing. A ware eye is kept on who might be reading, and in many there is an important political (and polemical) dimension. And there are security issues too of concern to soldiers and top brass alike.

Harry's letters one assumes, would have gone through the censor, I haven't asked Bill Lamin how much is redacted from the letters, I'd be interested to learn. I'd love to hear from modern milbloggers too, and what they think of Harry's blog, and how it differs from their own writing. Do they imagine that 90-years hence school children may be reading their blogs, wondering about what it was like to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan

The wwar1 blog is a time travel blog. Diaries and letters, even newspaper reports, make excellent raw material for the blogger and the ability to link and to add commentary, to expand upon the original text means that the blog becomes much more than an act of republishing. Pepys Diary is perhaps the best known, but there are others. A number of the great diaries are on-line too, but not in blog form. John Evelyn's diary of 1657 resonates, because it refers to my own neighbourhood.

July 3, A ship blown-up at Wapping, shooke my whole house, & the chaire I was sitting & reading in my study.

Reading the diary entries like that you realise that blogging doesn't have to be complex. In 250 years perhaps people will read, "CuttySark on fire, much smoke, strange odour from fridge" or the endless quotidian minutiae of Twitter with more interest than the extensive op-eds that so often get the most traffic.


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