COMES A SOLDIER’S WHISPER
A Collection of Wartime Letters with Reflection and Hope for the Future
By Jenny La Sala
Published by Trafford
Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online
Some years ago I reviewed a book about a soldier from Illinois. His name was Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson and he sounds like a stalwart of Little Round Top or Shilo when in fact he was a doctor who crossed into Canada and served with the modern day Toronto Scottish during some of the worst of the Great War. In short order he won the Military Cross and then the Victoria Cross, one of seven for Canada on the same day; in the climactic battles of 1918. He joined the Pantheon, but he did what so many of them do, he came home and got back on quietly with his life in a small town, loved and admired in his community without ever seeking fuss. . He enjoyed reunions in Canada and came to London to gather with fellow holders of the VC and lived out his life, passing away in 1954.
The book was a collection of notes and letters and the ephemera of his life as the recipient of the greatest award for gallantry the British Empire could bestow. The plain fact is that, as a book, it was beyond conventional review – it was a celebration and the truth is I’ve seen nothing like it since until I received this book remembering the life of the paratrooper David Clinton Tharp.
Although completely different in format the spirit of the book is identical. Here we have the letters a young soldier sent home through the period of his training at Currahee and embarkation to England. We see him in Normandy, the Netherlands and the Ardennes before he finishes his war in Austria during the chaos of the aftermath.
The letters themselves can be taken at face value in terms of emotion and impact. They are effectively a statement of the life of an ordinary soldier. They offer up a private world and editing them must have been a challenge for his daughter when preparing this monument to her father. He self censors the nightmares of his life as a cog in the vast wheel they like to term the Greatest Generation. As a radio man in the 502nd PIR he is indelibly tied to the aura of the war time Screaming Eagles. If the 101st were a brand in the modern sense they would be Apple. We can’t get enough of them. Here you have just one man of thousands and yet, for all of them, he is an everyman. If you are attempting to build a complete picture of that division or the Five-Oh-Deuce or just an ordinary American soldier, far from home; this book is invaluable.
The book won’t enhance your knowledge of the war or make it any more real for you than watching another re-run of Band of Brothers. But it has something not to be dismissed. It is a strong link to the men who fought for us. If you are lucky enough to possess the wartime letters of your own nearest and dearest you will understand this completely. They are to be treasured. They are your history.
Like our Great War doctor, David Clinton Tharp returned home to a full life of all the domestic stuff he craved while away on what was his greatest adventure. It defined him like so many others and he left us quietly just like my infantryman dad and your grandpa and it is entirely wrong to say that was all he wrote because in every sense he’s still here and this book cements his memory. I haven’t reviewed it, I’m celebrating it. Nuff said.