Home or Hell by Christmas: The Arkansas Great War Letters Project

August 16, 2018 6:00 PM to August 16, 2018 7:00PM

Delta Cultural Center - 141 Cherry Street, Helena Arkansas

Additional Event Details


Each week during World War 1, more than 12 million letters were delivered to American soldiers!Many of them were young men and women of limited life experience who had seldom been away from home, so they placed huge importance on correspondence.


While some of these soldiers enjoyed the opportunity to leave home and visit foreign lands, for others the excitement was tainted by separation from wives, sweethearts or children. So, it was through their letters that they exchanged news with family and friends--and confirmed that they were still in one piece. For those who never returned from the battlefields, their final letters home would be regarded by loved ones as a poignant testimony of their sacrifice and treasured as their last written expression.

Mike Polston, guest speaker for the evening, is a staff historian for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History. Polston will examine the role of Arkansas soldiers in the Great War as told in the many letters written by these service members and published in their hometown newspapers from 1917 through 1919. These letters also included those written by soldiers from the delta.









Soldiers have always written farewell letters on the eve of major battles, hoping they would never be read. Pvt T.C. Longley writes to his family that out of 1,600 in his regiment, he is one of the 150 who survived. ‘I sat down and had a good cry,’

It was this constant threat of death that encouraged soldiers to be more honest and open than might normally have been the case when writing home and the words that they have left us can be treasured as a valuable historical record of the First World War.

Then, there was also censorship of the letters that the soldiers sent and received.It was considered a matter of security.Its’ main purpose was to prevent mention of operational details that might prove of value to the enemy. Forbidden information included references to locations, numbers of troops, criticism of superiors and even the weather (which might indicate the state of the trenches).Yet, letters were an important way to maintain morale, and as much as possible, freedom of expression was widely indulged.


But when facts managed to escape the censor, the details of battle were overwhelming.

In a letter that he wrote home to his brother, one soldier, Major Henry Granville describes a tragic battle scene: ‘Suddenly the man lying next to me turned his head and I saw that his face from his eyes to his chin was literally blown away. He made a sort of moaning noise and looked at me in a questioning sort of way as if asking me what happened to him.’

Major Granville hints at the somber details that he omitted from this letter: ‘This is only a sketch, I could paint the picture but it would take me a week and I would not be able to see for the tears.’

With few other forms of communication readily available at the time, letters were a lifeline for maintaining relationships back home and hope on the battlefield.

Admission is free. For more information contact Richard Spilman, Delta Cultural Center education coordinator, 870.338.4350, or [email protected].Visit the DCC at


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