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Eric Shackle Writes: Words From The Front Line

Eric Shackle introduces us to two World War One soldiers whose words are now being made available on the Net.

Citizen Reporters in World War I

Harry Lamin, a British soldier who endured the horrors of life in the trenches of the Western Front in World War I, was one of the world's first citizen reporters. His homely despatches are now being posted on the Internet, exactly 90 years after he wrote them.

His letters to his family, posted one at a time, read like a serial cliffhanger, causing thousands of present-day Internet surfers worldwide to worry about his welfare. "Where is he?" one frantic viewer wrote a few days ago. "What's happened? I need the next letter! Is he dead? Is he alive? It's been eight days and no word from him!"

Three years ago, Bill Lamin, now 59, an information technology teacher living in Cornwall, England, read a bundle of letters his grandfather, Private Harry Lamin, had written from the western front in 1917-18. He sorted them into chronological order, and just one year ago began posting them as a blog. which has attracted more than a million hits. http://wwar1.blogspot.com/

Bill rightly says, "What has been produced is a moving and poignant account of an ordinary man's experiences in an extraordinary situation. I have edited nothing. The spellings and grammar are exactly as Harry wrote them."

Harry was conscripted in 1917, at the age of 30, and served with the York and Lancashire Regiment. He survived historic and bloody battles including Messines Ridge http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/messines.htm and Passchendaele http://www.macknortshs.qld.edu.au/ANZAC/passchendaele.htm which are still remembered for the appalling loss of lives of soldiers fighting on both sides.

"It is a rum job waiting for the time to go over the top - and without any rum too," Harry commented in one letter. On June 11, 1917, he wrote to his brother Jack about the battle of Messines Ridge.

"We have had another terrible time this week the men here say it was worse than the Somme advance last July. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/somme.htm We lost a lot of men but we got where we were asked to take. It was awful I am alright got buried and knocked about but quite well now and hope to remain so."

"We were praised by the general and all, everybody said we had done well, quite a success. I will tell you more when I see you."

Today, hundreds of thousands of web surfers are anxiously waiting to learn whether Harry was wounded or killed in the closing stages of the war, when he was stationed in Italy.

Grandson Bill is keeping that secret, letting readers share the anxiety the family must have suffered while awaiting another letter from Harry... or a fateful telegram from the War Office.

On a happier note, here's a letter Captain Charles S. Normington, a 24-year-old American World War I soldier, wrote from Paris to his parents on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918. His daughter, Lois Haugner, of Appleton, Wisconsin., recently posted it on the Internet.

Dear Folks:

Arrived here last night, and was on the street today when the armistice with Germany was signed. Anyone who was not here can never be told, or imagine, the happiness of the people here. They cheered and cried and laughed and then started all over again.

Immediately a parade was started on the Rue De Italiennes and has been going on ever since. In the parade were hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the U.S., England, Canada, France, Australia, Italy and the colonies.

Each soldier had his arms full of French girls, some crying, others laughing, each girl had to kiss every soldier before she would let him pass. http://www.postcrescent.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/999999990422/APC0101/50930004

When those early citizen reporters Harry Lamin and Charles Normington wrote to their folks 90 years ago, they could not have imagined their letters would be read by countless netizens around the world in 2008.


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