In discussions of combat experience too narrow a focus on soldiers’ psychological experiences and the cultural and social issues surrounding them risks obscuring the vital role of the body and of physical experience. In letters and diaries, Italian soldiers frequently describe their bodily experiences and transformations, enabling them to express their emotions obliquely through the use of the body as a metaphorical representation of the spirit. Building on international comparisons, this paper emphasises the centrality of the physical in our understanding of combatants’ experience. Soldiers’ bodies, which were transformed by changes in diet, fitness and health, acted as the primary vector through which military life was experienced. The paper analyses both the emotional impact of bodily transformations and the ways in which Italian soldiers represented these experiences in their writings.
Keywords: Soldiers, Bodily experience, Letter-writing, Health, Emotions; First World War