In Their Own Words: Writings of War Correspondent Don Matin and His 11-Year-Old Daughter Dorothy-An Intimate View of WWI. James Larrimore, editor. Self published, 2021. Hardcover, illustrated, 273pp. Review by Peter L. Belmonte
Don Martin was a political reporter for the New York Herald just prior to the U.S. entering World War I. He was a widower, and his only child, Dorothy, resided with his mother, Rose, in Silver Creek, New York, near Buffalo, while Martin lived in New York City to work on the paper. Due to his physical separation from his beloved daughter, he relied on letters to maintain his relationship. This continued when Martin was named war correspondent for the Herald in late 1917. This is a compilation of letters written by and to Don Martin, interspersed with his own diary entries and news dispatches. The correspondence presented here was mostly associated with his eleven-year old daughter Dorothy, but there are other letters to and from Martin’s mother, Rose, his sister, Alta, and others.
Martin’s letters to his daughter are written as to an older child or even an adult. They are generally not childish, and Martin intended for them to be passed around to the rest of the family. Martin was very frank in his letters home. His diary entries and letters reveal a different standard of patriotism and perhaps journalistic objectivity than today. More than once he reviles Germany’s barbarism and cruelty. In a diary entry dated June 12, 1918, he reports on a debate among fellow correspondents over “how best to increase the American hatred of the Germans” (p. 192). In similar passages Martin decries even Germans living in the United States who do not support America’s war effort.
Martin’s letters also serve as contemporary reporting. For example, he wrote to Dorothy every day during the voyage to England, and he mailed the letters to her in a package upon arrival. As Martin himself says, these letters would serve as a proper newspaper dispatch covering an ocean voyage during wartime. Indeed, his newspaper’s account of an air raid on London was taken largely from a letter to his family. In addition, he wrote tens of thousands of words for dispatches to the Herald. Dorothy’s letters to her father are a charming record of a girl struggling with growing up without her father yet trying her best to be brave and carry on. They are a delightful record of a bygone era.
There is not a lot of description combat in the book, nor is there any great analysis of strategic or operational issues. The dispatches, letters, and diary entries serve to collectively give us a contemporary glimpse into life a century ago. The view of the war, with its subtle changes and nuances, comes through, but only as a backdrop.
Martin writes of his travels associated with visiting the troops, sometimes driving more than one hundred miles a day in automobiles over poor roads. Exposure to these hardships, coupled with the exertions of being near the front and exposed to hazards, took its toll on Martin; he contracted influenza in early October and died on October 7, Dorothy’s twelfth birthday. After reading his diary entries and correspondence, we almost feel like we know Don Martin. By the time we read of his death we feel sadness at the loss; we feel for his daughter, mother, friends, and colleagues. He was mourned by fellow correspondents, and some of their tributes are included in the book.
The book is in a landscape layout with two columns to each page. Dorothy’s letters are printed in a cursive font that serves to set off her writing from that of others, and there are several photographs and illustrations throughout the book. This book is highly recommended as a history of how American World War I newspaper correspondents functioned. It is also an interesting glimpse of wartime social history. Interested readers can purchase the book directly from the editor, James Larrimore, 14044 Rue San Remo, Del Mar, CA 92014, Email: [email protected]; Telephone 858-509-9604. James Larrimore, is Martin’s grandson and Dorothy’s son.