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Published by F.S. & J. Rhys, 7 Well Lane, East Sheen, London SW14 7AE. Available at the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Academy or to order. ISBN 0953979903. £7.99

FOUR days after war was declared in 1914, John Cosmo Clark, aged 17 and a promising art student at Goldsmiths College, enlisted in the London Regiment. Aged 18, he was promoted captain and aged 21 he was awarded the Military Cross for service during the Somme Retreat. Censoring his own mail, these are Cosmo’s letters, sketches and drawings which he regularly sent home to his family during those terrible years, lively letters full of keenly observed, wry, moving and funny stories of trench life, with some parts of the book reading like storylines from Blackadder Goes Forth.

“...Potted any Bosche or suspicions of Bosche... mice were singing... company kitten was catching fleas... pinched a couple of Huns carrying a dixie of hot coffee to their troops... made ’em fetch it over to our lines.”
And some do not. “If it wasn’t for the lighthearted way in which the British army takes these things, half of ’em would be sent home with ‘nerves’.”

Cosmo, his letters and his quirky, funny drawings survived; he went on to become a Royal Academician and although not a war artist in the sense of Nevinson, Muirhead Bone or Paul Nash, who once said: “I was not allowed to put dead men into my pictures because apparently they don’t exist”, Cosmo Clark’s watercolour on the book’s reverse cover, a scene he painted after the war, of men in a dugout writing letters home by candlelight, seems to express war’s bitter truth. Uplifting and very British.