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August 07 , 2008

Full of Hope and Fear: The Great War Letters of an Oxford Family


The First World War has survived as part of our national memory in a way no previous war has ever done. This collection of letters - which lay untouched for almost ninety years - allows a unique glimpse into the war as experienced by one family at the time, transporting us back to an era which is now slipping tantalizingly out of living memory. The Slaters - the family at the heart of these letters - lived in Oxford. Like most families, they were both typical and unique. Gilbert, the father of the family, had been head of Ruskin College in Oxford, and during the war found work as the first Professor of Indian Economics in Madras. His wife, Violet, grew to detest the war and became an increasingly vocal pacifist as the slaughter continued. Owen, their eldest son, a schoolboy in 1914, was fighting in France by war's end. In the letters they wrote to each other and their friends at this time we see how the war increasingly impacted upon each of their lives and the life of the world around them - rationing, Violet's increasing involvement in radical politics, the deaths of friends, the fear of Zeppelin raids when in London, the endless discussions between Violet and Gilbert about how to keep their son out of the trenches - and the growth of Owen from schoolboy to soldier, serving as a junior officer on the Western Front. Above all, in their privacy and immediacy, their inconsistencies and false hopes, these letters bring us as near as we can ever be to understanding what people thought, feared, and hoped for during these momentous years.
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