The millions who pray for the life of the World War One soldier from Awsworth
EACH simple, unassuming word carried proof that Private Harry Lamin was alive.
And 90 years ago Harry's family, back in Awsworth, devoured line after line of his 80 letters, sent from the grotesque horror of the war.
Now, in a quantum leap of technology, millions of readers around the world have been able to peer over the Lamin family's shoulders, like them, anxiously waiting for news of Harry's fate.
Harry was sent to the Western Front when he was 29, in 1917, to serve with the 9th Battalion, York and Lancashire Regiment. He wrote the letters to his brother and sister, Jack and Kate.
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The letters from Harry, a working class lacemaker, have sprung to mass attention thanks to the soldier's grandson Bill.
A former Nottingham High School pupil and ex-teacher, Bill, 60, discovered the letters in a drawer when he was clearing out his parents' Ilkeston home in 2005 and decided to publish them on the internet in the form of a blog.
"It's the best idea I've ever had in my life," he says. "It's worked so well.
"And nobody had thought of doing it with historical letters before. It caught everyone's imagination."
Since Bill began the blog, in February 2007, posting each letter in sequence exactly 90 years after it was first written, it has had 10.5 million hits and attracted avid readers from across the world, including South America, Eastern Europe, China and North America.
The date of each update corresponds to the dates of Harry's original letters.
"If there was a two-week gap between the letters from Harry, you get the same break in the posts, so people following on the internet are in the same position as Harry's family at home, waiting for news to see if he was ok," explains Bill.
He has been overwhelmed by the reaction he's received to the blog, which has attracted some 2,000 comments.
"Once people found it, they were hooked," he says. "It was like a big soap opera, seeing what happened to him."
At no point did Bill let on whether Harry actually survived the war.
"Some of the comments have reduced me to tears," he says.
Some readers have almost adopted Harry in lieu of grandparents they never knew.
"There's a community out there, conversing about Harry. And they regard him as one of their family.
People say they're praying for him, when there's been a gap between the letters. It just doesn't stack up, it's not rational but that's what happens. You start reading the letters and you go back 90 years," says Bill.
The success of the blog has enabled Bill, who now lives in Cornwall, to quit his job as a maths teacher and move into writing full-time. A book containing Harry's letters has just been published. It includes further research into the background of the war he's describing.
"The book goes backwards and forwards between his letters, the battalion's war diaries and the history of the war," he says. "It's better researched than the blog because I'm doing it retrospectively. Online, if I didn't know what something was or what it meant, I could just ask. Somebody would post the answer within a day or two."
However, for those online readers, Harry's journey has not finished yet. The war may have finished 90 years ago last November but Harry has "now" (in the timescale of his letters) been sent to Italy.
"He's stuck in Italy, guarding ammunition. He can't get home and he's very unhappy," says Bill.
"The Italian army collapsed at the end of 1917 and French and British divisions were sent to Italy to help them out and hold up the Austro-Hungarian army.
"You'd think Harry would have been home for Christmas, with the war having ended in November.
"But he wasn't. The military isn't very good at getting their fingers out.
"There are still people on the internet trying to follow his story. He's made it to the end of the war. The only mystery left is how long it took him to get back home."
The ending of Harry's story, and his life, is included in Bill's book. He advises those following the story on the blog to read "very slowly" so they don't spoil the news of his homecoming online.
Bill has a few memories of Harry who died in 1961, aged 73.
"I remember him, but not much," he says. "He was very quiet; kept himself to himself."
Even at the end of his life, Harry was still having nightmares, largely based on his memories of the battle of Passchendaele.
"It was just so horrific," says Bill.
Bill says Harry would have hated having his letters published.
"He was a very private man. If he were here to ask, I know what the answer would be. But I think it's so important we're aware of what these men went through," explains Bill.
He believes Harry also wrote letters to his wife, Ethel, but at some point she destroyed them.
"I think it's probably better that way because it's not as emotional, not as intimate. They may have been more difficult to publish."
Finding out what Harry did with his life after the war has proved a problem for Bill.
"It's easy with the Army, there were records," he says. "Once you leave, you stop noting down everything you do. He finished up working in a lace factory in Derby."
Harry had two children, one of whom died in childhood. The other was Bill's father, also Bill.
Bill senior was just nine months old when Harry was called up at the end of 1916. For the rest of the war Harry saw his son only once, during a fortnight's leave.
Bill senior is now in a nursing home in Sudbury, his wife having died four years ago.
"When I started the blog, he was very enthusiastic but now his memory's gone," says his son.
"It's very sad but he hasn't been able to appreciate the book."
So where does Bill believe the mass appeal of Harry's letters lies?
"The language is very simple; there's nothing clever," he says, thoughtfully. "But you read half a letter and you know this guy. You know who you're dealing with. It's very upfront and honest writing. People say they start reading a letter at 10pm and the next thing it's four in the morning because they can't wait to find out what happens next."
He feels Harry's letters help to fill in the blanks in a bit of history that could so easily be overlooked; the experiences of the ordinary soldier.
"A lot of the writings were done by officers and privileged people. They pick up the exciting bits. These letters chart an experience over the whole of the war."
There are some of the letters Bill holds particularly dear.
They include one written right before Harry's first experience of going over the top, when he was waiting for a rum ration that never showed.
"He'd been in France less than a month – and he'd been in the line for about three days – when he was asked to go over the top," says Bill. "It must have been horrific. So scary. They'd reckoned on a good mug of rum before they went but the rum ration didn't turn up.
"Harry writes, 'It's a rum job, waiting for the time to come to go over the top without any rum.'"
Bill also treasures a description of Passchendaele, from September 1917, where Harry survived a major attack.
"It just rained and rained and people were drowning in mud," says Bill. "Harry writes, 'We had 20 casuals and a captain got killed, a jolly good fellow too. I was pleased to get out of it but I didn't feel nervous when I saw them coming over.' That's got everything in it, really!"
Last year, Bill went to visit the war graves in Belgium and found the one belonging to the "jolly good fellow" – the captain Harry describes.
For his own part, he's relieved to see his own three children starting to show an interest in Harry, now his deeds are being published in a book.
"Their father having a book is just incredible. They've started reading it and asking questions about their great-grandfather."
He hopes his children will glean a sense of their family history while he is still able to answer their questions. His one regret, he says, is not having developed an interest earlier.
"There's so much I would have liked to have asked my father and now I can't," he sighs. "And I'd have loved to have asked Harry questions about his experiences. Whether he'd have answered them is another matter!"
Letters from the Trenches by Bill Lamin is published by Michael O'Mara, at £14.99.
To read Harry's experiences online, go to www.wwar1.blogspot.com