Education

William A. Higgs Letter, October 18, 1918


Historical Context
Throughout history, soldiers have communicated with family and friends from the battlefield.  Although the telegraph and telephone were in use during the World War I era, access to these means of communication was scarce while on the front lines.  Writing letters remained an easy and accessible way for soldiers and service members to share news, receive updates from home, or simply let a family know that they were okay.



This letter by William A. Higgs tells a great deal about life on the Western Front.  In the letter, Higgins briefly describes his average experiences in battle, but talks about many more issues, too.  Rather than focus on grand events or insignificant happenings, the letter Higgs wrote tells of daily life as he lived it.

 
Essential Question
How do soldiers view their work during war?
Check for Understanding
Discuss the key details in Willliam Higgs' letter and evaluate the impact of this letter on his friends and family.
[click to enlarge]
William A. Higgs letter, October 18, 1918, New York State Archives, NYSA_A0412-78_B07_F24_Higgs_letter
Document Description
October 18, 1918 letter written by William A. Higgs describing daily life in the trenches.
Questions
  1. When was the letter written?
  2. In the opening of the letter, the first line says that Higgs is “Somewhere in France.”  What are some reasons why his location is not made specific?
  3. Where is Higgs staying as he is writing the letter?
  4. What are some of his complaints? 
  5. What is one thing he would like sent to him?
  6. What job does Higgs perform in the Army?
Historical Challenge
Based on the date of the letter, explore what battle or battles Higgs may have been in at the time he wrote the letter. Check his service record in this resource to see if any of your answers match his actual experiences.
Interdisciplinary Connections
English: Tone can have a major effect on the overall message or feel of a letter. Why do you think Higgs used the tone he did instead of another tone (for example, worried, fearful, or boastful)?
Math: You are sending a letter from the front lines in Europe to your home in New York. The letter must be carried by car to the seaport, and then sent by ship to New York. Suppose it takes 7 days for a letter sent from Europe to cross the Atlantic Ocean and make it to your home in New York. Before it can be sent by ship, it takes an additional 0.04 (X) days to be sent from the front lines to the seaport, where X equals the distance from the front lines to the seaport measured in hundreds of miles. If you are 200 miles from the seaport, how long will it take for your letter to reach your home?
Resources
  1. Brittain, Vera, Bishop, Alan, and Mark Bostridge (eds.). Letters from a lost generation : the First World War letters of Vera Brittain and four friends, Roland Leighton, Edward Brittain, Victor Richardson, Geoffrey Thurlow. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999.
  2. Wolfe, Avery, Harvey, William C. (ed.), and Eric T. Harvey (ed.). Letters from Verdun: Frontline Experiences of an American Volunteer in World War I France. Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2009.