Published in the centennial year of the United States’ entry into World War I, My Dear People is a collection of 30 letters written by a draftee into the U.S. Army Signal Corps during his year of active, front-line service in France and Belgium. Private Ned Crawford was a working telephone man from a humble background who nevertheless loved to write and worked at producing literate, honest and often witty letters to a group of close friends back home.
The letters appear in their entirety. They have been compiled by the writer’s daughter, Constance Crawford, a writer of fiction and memoir, who has included in the book an intimate and probing character study of her father and commentaries on the letters themselves. Interlarded amongst the letters and commentary is a carefully researched military history of Private Crawford’s outfit by Christopher McManus. The book is further enhanced by maps and a rare collection of historic and personal photographs.
Because of his circumstances as well as strict censorship, Ned Crawford was not free to write a truly close-up, moment-by-moment, psychological description of being under hostile fire and volunteering to remain there for the good of the outfit and the mission. His letters do give insight into how an ordinary person can set aside his own self-preservation to aid in the effort of his group, the army war machine—even though, in many ways, he did not approve of its methods and aims. Still, Ned was a soldier, and his duty, being a good soldier, was important to him. The fact that Private Ned Crawford, who detested all war and served under protest, nevertheless served well and emerged having won the Distinguished Service Cross for great courage under fire gives the book a powerful narrative twist.
Constance Crawford, a graduate of Stanford’s Creative Writing Program, has published fiction and memoir, including The Muse of Menus: Stories from Life and Cooking (John Daniel and Co., 1988). Presently, she studies the writing of poetry. She lives and writes in Palo Alto, California.