personal diaries about people at war 


 listed diaries and letters

 
1. World War: 91
  2.
World War: 49
  other Wars:
23
 


    Countless soldiers wrote diaries even under the difficult circumstances of war. In addition to descriptions of everyday routine, they recorded the horror of war in their subjective portrayal of events.  The diaries that have come to light cover every conflict since the middle 19th century when the spread of literacy made it possible for the ordinary soldier to keep a personal record or to write home.

    Besides the wish to record these formative events for oneself and others, it appears that the authors had to reprocess what they had experienced. The plenitude of blogs during  the current Iraq war shows clearly how important it is for soldiers to speak out about what they are experiencing.  After a war is concluded some diaries are revised and published as memoirs (i.e. Ernst Jünger: "Storm of Steel", George Coppard " With A Machine Gun To Cambrai") while others remain forgotten for decades.  Today such diaries are found and published with great success (i.e. Willy Reese "A Stranger to Myself").  Diaries from WW2, like Roscoe E. Blunt´s "Foot Soldier" can be found in the list of recommended books of the US Army.

    Many diaries still remain to be discovered in chests and cupboard drawers. The internet is now giving us the chance to open these sources to a worldwide public. Many private websites have published war diaries. The blog of the WW1 British soldier William Henry Bonser Lamin gained large publicity with millions of readers.

    This website, war-diary.com, is intended to concentrate all such publications, allowing a larger audience access to this "a posteriori blogging" (AP Blog) (writing a diary in the retrospective).  In our first project we will publish the diary of the German WW1 soldier Dieter Finzen from September 2009 on.
    <Sven Janke, Webmaster>  


     about  diaries, memoirs and letters 
     

    There is no such thing as a perfect source.  Every single word - spoken, written, taped - comes from a person, along with that person's bias and memory problems.  The closer in time to the events recorded the more accurate the report, at least from the author's point of view.  When we read a personal document we have to consider the character of the writer as well as the purpose of the document.  The more we know about the creation of a document the better we can evaluate it. 

    The Author
    Understanding the nature of the document's writer tells us how much we should value his word.  If the author is a person of great authority, then s/he has a reputation to protect, and therefore is less likely to accentuate faults or mistaken decisions.  An author who by nature is known to be truthful is going to be believed over one who is reputed to be a braggart. 

    The Audience
    Not only do we need to understand the author, but the purpose of the document (its audience) affects how we evaluate the document's value.  

    The diary
    is personal with no intended audience.  When provided in its pure form - as written with no editing or polishing in later years - it is as close as we can get to hearing the author speak to us without reservation.  Even though no audience is intended, there may be cases where an audience is implied.  Soldiers in particular do not have the luxury of privacy and their diaries could be read by bunk-mates, superiors, or in the case of capture, by enemies.  In those cases, the author will be self-editing as s/he writes and this must be taken into consideration when reading the diary.

     

    The letter 
    has an audience by definition being the recipient.  What a soldier will write to his mother or sweetheart is very different from what he will write to a brother or a male friend.  Girls share confidences with one another that others will never hear.

    A memoir  is usually intended for distribution, either throughout the author's family or for general publication.  The latter case is the more usual and therefore suggests that the memoir has a market, either because of the author's reputation or the events chronicled.

    Other documents, such as newspaper articles and official reports, are combinations of the above.  Even with the immediacy of a diary, these have the audience, circulation and marketing issues of memoirs.  The official report in particular may appear to be a letter to a superior, but the author's career may hinged on what he says.  Therefore you will never read an official report in which the author writes, "Yes, sir, it was totally my fault that we lost the battle costing us 15,000 men captured, wounded and killed."

    In addition to studying the character of the author and the nature of the document itself, those reading online have to keep in mind that what is presented is almost always a
    transcript  and perhaps even a translation.  With each pass the document becomes more removed from the original.  A good translator will attempt to put the flavor of the language into the work and a good transcriptionist will present every single character as it appears, without correction or editing.

    The diaries, letters and memoirs presented here are what they are -- records taken from the unique perspective of soldiers in war.  Even translated and transcribed, they are as close as we can come to their actual experiences. <Ellen Wilds, webmousepublications.com>
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    Dieter Finzen

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