John Masefield's Letters From the Front 1915-17

edited by Peter Vansittart. Franklin Watts,, $18.95. Masefield, aged thirty-six and with a history of tuberculosis, was ineligible for military service in the First World War, but he made himself useful, first as a Red Cross volunteer and later as an “honorary second lieutenant without pay,” assigned to write an account of the Battle of the Somme. Regardless of hard work, foul weather, and falling shells, he wrote regularly to his wife. “I wish,” he complained, “that I could describe these things, so as to make people see them,” characteristically underestimating his ability to evoke, simultaneously, “the smell of the power of death,” the shell-torn countryside, and the vision of what that countryside had been before armies turned it into “a landscape in the moon, made of filth instead of beauty.”It is astonishing that these superb letters have never been published before.