By René Greger
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A book which attempts to answer questions of this kind has to focus on the experience of a small group of soldiers in some depth. In this respect, as in others, I have followed the example of Michael Roper in The Secret Battle, a pioneering study published in 2009 of emotional survival in the Great War. Writing about men’s relationships with their mothers, he used letters from Reggie Trench to his mother Isabel which I lent him. There is a small further overlap in our source material. However, by and large, I have been asking some of the same questions as he did but with a different set of subjects and on the wider canvas of men’s correspondence with their whole families.
28 Clare’s letters reveal how quickly this became a family war. Children learnt that grown-ups had taken on new roles and were suddenly very busy. Their games copied the new moral order of commitment and duty. indd 14 24/06/13 6:43 PM ‘quiet e a r n e s t fa c e s ’ 15 nephew, harassed Clare’s letter writing with his noisy play one day in December 1914, ‘stumping round in full armour, varied by shouting “stand at ease”, “shun” in most approved manner’. 29 Margaret was replicating the Voluntary Aid Detachment work with the Red Cross which Clare and her sisters, Violet and Amy, maintained throughout the autumn.
A candid account of his work with the intelligence section of the Fourth Army Corps later that month did not dent Reggie’s own fervour. Eddy confessed to ‘several baptisms of fire’, motorcycling through villages with ‘bullets whizzing past me several times in quite sufficient numbers to make me uncomfortable’. Eddy had been shocked to encounter a group of Germans dead and wounded in a hole in the ground beside a roadside: ‘two or three of the poor men groaned to me for water and said they had been lying there three days’.