About this project: Email vs Letters

13 Jan

I want each of the letters to show under the name of the person who wrote it, so all Ted’s letters will have “Ted Berryman” as their author, and so on.  This has been a minor scutter to set up. To do this, I must set each of them up an author on the website, which means they each need their own email address.

I’ve been creating email accounts for dead relatives.

This felt decidedly odd, especially when I realised I want to quote from my mother’s book directly. I simply cannot bring myself to create an email using her name (she died in 2001).

It’s been awkward in practice too. Google’s Google Apps service seemed a straightforward way to manage the email addresses, but it turns out that Google discontinued the free service without warning on the 6th December, a week before I opened the trial account on the 13th.  At least it was a clear week, and not a day before. If I continued with the service, these changed goalposts would cost me a couple of hundred quid I didn’t plan to spend, all for no real benefit.

In the end, I set up email addresses with the company that hosts the website. The downside is it will be harder to move the site if I need to, but at least there’s no additional cost.

It’s bizarre though; so often in the letters Ted, Ben, Richard and Paul write about problems with sending and receiving mail.  They all write their letters in time to catch the weekly mail service to England, Paul takes his letters to neighbouring ships for posting and a lot of them get lost as a result. All the siblings make sure their mother has a reliable address to write to, so her letters will wait safely until they can be picked up. They often mention mail that’s gone missing (gone down with ships sunk by the Germans in some cases). I guess it’s no surprise that letters should be about letters.

Email is more reliable and it’s certainly quicker (less than a second compared with a couple of months).  But in other respects it’s far more fragile.  I’m just about to blast the emails in the Google Apps account into their constituent ones and zeros.  I am entirely dependent on my mail host doing back-ups and not going bankrupt.  But the letters themselves are 100 years old; they are physical letters sitting in boxes in the Imperial War Museum, they have stamps and postmarks, some are marked with scribbled notes about their contents (“letters from my shipwrecked sons”) others are written in pencil and smeared with mud from the trenches.  They’ve come from India, from Iraq, from France, they were stored in the tin box for more than 50 years, and they sat for months on my mother’s dining room table in the 1980s.

There’s a poem in there somewhere.  Maybe I’ll write it when I need a change from setting up dummy email accounts in the names of people who no longer exist.


Posted by on 13 January, '13 in About, Imperial War Museum


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