What does the letter below reveal about the experience of the soldiers who fought in World War I?
We are now 150yd from Fritz and the moon is bright, so we bend and walk quietly onto the road running diagonally across the front into the Bosche line. There is a stream the far side of this boards have been put across it at intervals but must have fallen in about 20yd down we can cross. We stop and listen - swish - and down we plop (for a flare lights everything up) it goes out with a hiss and over the board we trundle on hands and knees.
Apparently no one has seen so we proceed to crawl through a line of "French" wire. Now for 100yd dead flat weed-land with here and there a shell hole or old webbing equipment lying in little heaps! These we avoid. This means a slow, slow crawl head down, propelling ourselves by toes and forearm, body and legs flat on the ground, like it snake.
A working party of Huns are in their lair. We can just see dark shadows and hear the Sergeant, who is sitting down. He's got a bad cold! We must wait a bit, the moon's getting low but it's too bright now 5 a.m. They will stop soon and if we go on we may meet a covering party lying low...
Soon we are behind the friendly parapet and it is day. We are ourselves again, but there's a subtle cord between us, stronger than barbed wire, that will take a lot of cutting. 20 to 7, 2 hrs 10 minutes of life - war at its best. But shelling, no, that's death at its worst. And I can't go again, it's a vice. Immediately after I swear I'll never do it again, the next night I find myself aching after "No Man's Land".
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What this letter tells us is that the war was (for this soldier at least) both a terrible thing and an amazing thing.
We are well aware of how horrible the war in the trenches was. This letter reflects some of that reality. It talks, for example, about how being shelled is "death at its worst." It talks about how this man and his comrades have to crawl around on their bellies, always hoping not to be discovered and killed.
What we do not think about as often is the way in which war was exhilarating (at least to some men). The writer of this letter implies that he feels more alive when he is out in No Man's Land than at any other time. After he gets back, he feels fear, but he ends up wanting to go back. In other words, he feels more connected to life when he is risking death.
This letter cannot, of course, tell us how many soldiers felt this way. However, it does tell us that this particular soldier, at least, felt that the war was both horrible and exhilarating.
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