Anyone who received letters from military personnel on the front line during the 1939 - 1945 war will remember how heavily censored they were - words, sentences, even complete paragraphs were obliterated by impenetrable black ink, sometimes whole passages were cut out with scissors.
The troops at the front in the 2nd Boer War (1899 - 1902) wrote home about their experiences and no one thought of vetting the letters before they were loaded onto the mail ship to make the long journey back to England - in a way, these soldiers can be likened to the men and women fighting in Iraq who just hold up their cell phones to show their families exactly what is happening.
The result is an astonishing archive of first-hand accounts - not the dry, formal writing of official despatches and reports but the raw reactions of people who were there and were living through all the experiences of battle.
In a way that can never have been anticipated, the Education Act of 1870 paid off an astonishing dividend - these are such good letters. For the first time in history, even the most lowly foot soldier was able to write down his experiences and express his own emotional reactions to them. The result is that, before the days of radio or television, every one of these letter-writers became a war correspondent, secure in the knowledge that back home, the family circle and their friends would be hanging on every word they wrote.