A first-hand experience of war for Southlanders

Invercargill City Libraries and Archives archivist Rebecca Smith shows some photos and letters from Southland soldiers ...
Kavinda Herath

Invercargill City Libraries and Archives archivist Rebecca Smith shows some photos and letters from Southland soldiers in WWI that will be included in the new website to launch March 1.

Southlanders will soon get a taste of what war was like from the soldiers themselves.

More than 300 war letters from four Southland World War I soldiers have been transcribed and digitised for a new public website.

The website, by the Invercargill City Libraries and Archives, called Since Writing You Last will launch on March 1.

The work, which took the eight volunteers over two years to transcribe and piece together, tells the stories of Charlie McIntyre, Ernie McIntyre, Len Shepard and John Hall.

Their letters written to family back home totalled more than 1700 pages.

Invercargill City Libraries and Archives archivist Rebecca Smith said it was a "unique" experience to read the stories of the soldiers themselves.

"We all read novels and movies, but first hand is different."

Having the letters online meant they would be utilised, she said.

Smith said for her the letters were an "emotional rollercoaster" to read.

Frustration, anger, shock and heartbreak were clear, but humour was also a prominent feature, she said.

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"There's a lot of emotion coming through."

But one key thing the team aimed for was for it to appeal to a wide range of people's interests in the area.

Anyone would enjoy it, whether they be a war enthusiast, casual reader or student, she said.

The project team spent hours transcribing the handwriting and piecing together the website that includes a timeline, keyword search and biographies of the soldiers.

It was made on a free web programme, so the only cost was of the generous hours of staff and volunteers put in, Smith said.

Although it was time intensive, she said she would not say no to adding to the project if more soldiers stories popped up.

 - Stuff

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