Notes from the Trenches
Gary H. Foster
Outskirts Press (2018)
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (02/19)
In 1917, author Gary Foster’s grandfather, Leo Foster, enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard. He was assigned to be a bugler in Company M of the Old Wisconsin 3rd Regiment. In 2010, the author was given his grandfather’s footlocker from the war. It contained memoirs of the story of his life from when he enlisted in 1917 to when he was released from active duty in 1920. The memoirs begin while he is serving stateside, then they follow him overseas, and end after he returns home. Included in the memoirs were cards, newspaper clippings and 96 letters. Using these to guide him, the Foster wrote “Notes from the Trenches,” as a tribute to his grandfather and the rest of the Doughboys who served in the first World War.
When Leo went overseas, his correspondence had to be censored to prevent German intelligence from being able to pick up any useful information. In addition to having to take care with how he wrote and dated information, some of his letters were also censored by the military, so that information was lost. Leo’s style of writing made his letters fun to read. It is obvious that he had an upbeat nature and a kind heart because it really shows through in his writing. Including photographs and newspapers articles in the book gives the reader an even greater sense of how things were in that era.
I really enjoyed being able to learn about World War I through the eyes of a soldier who served during that time. The author does a nice job of incorporating an explanation into events that were taking place around what was happening in the letters. He also includes how his family was faring at home, without Leo. Not only did they have to deal with reports of his injuries, but they were also incorrectly notified of his death. That had to be devastating for them, but at least they were able to get him back, unlike others who were gone forever.
My grandfather served for over forty years in the Navy. He kept a scrapbook with memoirs that he gathered during his years of service. Like the author, I got to learn a lot about my grandfather while I read through his memories. Unfortunately, for my family, the scrapbook disappeared shortly after his death. I find it heartwarming, that Gary Foster was able to not only save his grandfather’s story, but also share it with others. “Notes from the Trenches,” is a must read for fans of history and I highly suggest that history teachers add it to their required reading lists.