Sunday, October 4, 2009

For Love and Courage: Letters Home from the Western Front 1914–1917, by Lieutenant Colonel EW Hermon, edited by Anne Nason

Edward William Hermon (1878–1917) wrote some 600 letters to his wife in the two years before his death at the Battle of Arras. This well-edited selection begins in 1914, with Hermon looking forward to “the game” or “the show”, and pausing during nights of calm to write words of heartfelt love. He still manages to get letters and newspapers in the trenches, but early on he is most preoccupied by food parcels: tea, jam, Oxo, Bovril and “Gentleman’s Joy”. It is quintessentially English (“After tea the Germans had the lip to start shelling us”), the quaint language (“what ho!”, “capital”, “top-hole”) evoking a lost era. While he cannot conceal his joy at mixing with fellow officers who know about hounds and hunting, Hermon has a high regard for his men, and is surprised to find them sharing their rum, cigarettes and even breakfast with German POWs. His loving good-humour cannot survive the constant noise and squalor, however, and his last letters are tense and weary. It’s a touching record of one man’s experience of war.

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