1914-18: With diaries, letters home and poems, soldiers in the trenches made it the most literate of conflicts

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ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1914, from a trench in northern France, a British soldier who signed himself “Boy” wrote a letter to his mother: “My Dear Mater, This will be the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever spent . . . just before dinner I had the pleasure of shaking hands with several Germans . . . It all seems so strange.” Boy was merely doing what so many soldiers of the Great War did as a matter of routine: putting his thoughts and observations into words, and committing them to paper. He knew he was recording history, but he cannot have suspected that he was creating an artefact that would one day be worth a small fortune.

This week, Boy’s Christmas Truce letter was sold at auction for £14,400, after the singer Chris de Burgh trumped 14 rival bidders.

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