Diving In: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs (by Chiara Kalogjera-Sackellares)

Chiara Kalogjera-Sackellares

May 8, 2015

Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to begin research on the historical research project, Bombs, Bonds, and Boycotts: A Local and Global History of World War I. Holding letters that are nearly a century old is amazing and gives me a tangible and uncanny connection with the past. From the letters of Ross Blanchard to his mother to the diary of Walter McKenzie during the Polar Bear Expedition, I’ve been able to learn about how the soldiers experienced the war but also realized that there are multiple sides to these experiences. Ross Blanchard and Walter McKenzie make an effort to keep the conversation in their letters light-hearted, make jokes, and stay positive. There is often little talk about the miseries of war, unless complaining that they have to do their own laundry. However, McKenzie’s diary presents a different perspective of this experience. McKenzie is miserable during training and the war due to the weather conditions, training, and war in general. The soldiers struggle to comfort their families and friends about the war and try to reassure them that everything will be ok yet the soldiers know so little about what is actually going on in the war that it is difficult for them to say much more than that. In fact, the families and friends back home often know more about the global aspects of the war than the soldiers on the front do. The soldiers rarely know where they are and are constantly concerned with censorship in the letters. Thus, there is a nice comparison between the soldiers who are concerned with the war activities in their immediate vicinity and the families who are concerned with war activities across the globe. Moving forward, I hope to learn more from other collections about the relationships these soldiers had with their comrades and how these relationships differed from those with their families. I’ll also be looking more at gender roles during the war and how this affected wartime experiences and then at the different mediums through which wartime experiences were conveyed and how and why these mediums produce different recollections of wartime experiences.