Week 14: “Intimate Voices from the First World War”

Svetlana Palmer and Sarah Wallis were among the producers of the documentary mini-series “The First World War.” As part of preparations for that series, they read hundreds of diaries. In “Intimate Voices,” they reproduce 28 accounts, some of them sad and others stirring. Two of the diaries were written by children: Piete Kuhr, who was 12 in 1915 and lived in East Prussia, and Yves Congar, who was 10. Yves lived in Sedan, which was taken by the Germans in August 1914 and occupied until September 1918.

The children’s accounts are the most touching, but some of the other accounts — taken from letters — are amusing. A young Canadian, Winnie McClare, has this to say about a sightseeing trip he made while on leave in England: “The worst of London is the girls that run around the streets there. … they will take you by the arm and want you to go home with them and stay all night with them.” Five months later, somewhere in France, he confesses to his sister that he has been writing to a girl in Liverpool. They were fixed up as pen pals by friends. He has yet to meet her, but has been told that though she isn’t pretty, she has a good personality. He goes on to tell his sister, “I have been writing to two or three girls. … I guess that it is a good thing that I like writing.”

In their preface, Palmer and Wallis say that because they have lived in for years in Germany and Russia, their interests are skewed toward the Eastern Front, but the narratives they’ve collected come from both sides and encompass every theater of the war, including Africa.

The wide variety of experiences revealed in these diaries makes this an invaluable collection to your war library.

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