Letters were nearly the only means by which soldiers, both officers and men, could keep in touch with their families and friends while they were serving away from home. Many were written in cramped dug outs and few wanted to share with their loved ones just what they were going through. Many letters were sent simply to make sure that their families were reassured that they were well or to ask that the next parcel might contain something they needed and t thank them for what they had previously sent.
The vast majority of the letters sent have not survived. But here is a sample of ones sent to or by those who served in 58 Brigade RFA. They include a last letter sent by a man shortly before he was killed in action, letters of sympathy to family and friends of those who had been killed as well as some more routine letters sent during or shortly after the war.
Each tells its own story.
Letter from Cpl. Peter Hutchinson Wardlaw to his sweetheart, Catherine ‘Kate’ Bell Hay, who was at the time in New Zealand, 9 December 1914
Wednesday 9/12/14, Leeds
My Darling Kate,
I was beginning to think the ships bringing New Zealand correspondence, were amongst the many sunk by mines or German Warships, as I haven’t heard from you for nearly six weeks or so. However dear they had only been delayed, for today I received no fewer than five.
For myself dear I haven’t written nearly as often as I would have liked. The last time was while at Lutterworth on my way to the Gunnery school, where I remained for a month and glad to say I got on first class so much so that on the third week I got another stripe which promoted me to Corporal.
The course was an exceptionally hard one and to make a success of it one had to devote every second of available time in studying. As you are no doubt aware dear the conditions in Barracks are not as good now as in time of peace, and to make a success of things I hired a room in one of the big houses on the Sea Front where I went every evening, Saturdays and Sundays; all the time available, and a very funny thing happened. It now turns out that an Officer in the same regiment, with the same name as myself had stayed in that same house, while going through a nine month course at the same school.
Since coming home to Leeds I have been inoculated twice, meaning being confined to bed for 48 hours each time. This operation is supposed to be an excellent preventative against fevers common at the front.
I have got a lovely charger Kate dear. I think it used to be a hunter, before the Army took it over. So far both of us have been agreeing very well indeed, only of course my “legs” are no doubt sorer than the Gee-Gee’s.
All being well I anticipate being home in Alloa during the New Year for about three days. Mother is expecting both Jimmie and I. It will be a change having two soldier? boys at 21. If only Father had been alive what a difference it would have made, but never mind dear, we’ve got to face all these things, as you say dear. I would give all the world to have the pleasure of your company before going abroad, but I am afraid no such luck, for no doubt we’ll be on the job shortly after New Year. In fact it is talked of being sometime in the middle of January.
I’ll have to get changed for duty now, so Ta-ta until the next time. Hoping you’re well and happy dear.
With fondest love, your loving Peter.
[“Broken by Messines”, p98, courtesy of Dr Mark Wardlaw]
Letter from 2/Lt Robert Bragg to his mother, Gwendoline, written from Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, August 1915
Battery “Dug Out”
19th August (I think)
My Dearest Mum
At last I have a chance to write you a line. I am afraid that there is a long gap between this & my last letter posted at Mudros just before we left. Well Mum dear the last few days have been the most strenuous I have ever had in all my life. The infantry landed befor[e] us & we watched from the harbour. They just landed & walked on with very little opposition at first. We landed two or three days later in small batches. Things were in a frightful mess they landed our guns in one place our horses in another & our men in another. Consequently it took some time straightening up things. The country here is hopeless for moving guns over, no roads but sandy tracks, and all the rest is boulders & prickly shrubs but there is one thing in its favour, the climate, at least at present, is glorious, day after day its just the same, not unbearably hot in the middle of the day & cool at night. There is a rainy season though I think when it pours torrents all night & all day. Well Mum things aren’t moving as fast as I expected though we seem to have taken up enough different positions in the last few days to last us for a lifetime. We were shelled at yesterday & so last night we moved & I hope there will be peace for a little. We have at last got hold of our mess kit & to-day have fared like lords. For the first week we lived on Bully Beef biscuits & water, not too thrilling. I have just got hold of that box of chocolate etc you sent to Witley. I have been saving it up for some auspicious moment & the joy of that chocolate was past belief! War is a frightfully tiring sort of game, you shoot all day & move guns & dig all night until you are so tired, that your knees literally knock. The Turks shells aren’t much good, one burst just over me when I was crossing the open the other day & churned up the dust all around me but nothing struck me, which was rather luck. Also their H.E. is rotten, a 6” one landed about 3 yds from one of my guns yesterday & did nothing. The snipers are jolly bad, they paint themselves green & hide in trees & bushes & have a pot at you as you go past. I nearly went to sleep just then. We have been told that there is a chance of a peaceful day to-day so the Major is sending down half the Battery down to bathe. I haven’t had my clothes off since I landed & I can tell you they want changing. Well Cheero I am going to snatch a few hours sleep to make up for the many nights out of bed. I am feeling awfully fit but longing to get back nor am I the only one.
My best love to you and Dad,
Your loving Son
[Courtesy of the Royal Institution, RI MS RCB/A/11]
Letter from Lt. Robert Lloyd Peel (A/58) to 2/Lt. Robert Bragg’s mother, Gwendoline, informing her of her son’s death
September 6th 1915
“A” Batty 58th Bde R.F.A.
B. M. E. F. [British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force]
Dear Mrs Bragg
It is with the deepest regret that I sit down to write this letter — I feel that mere words are utterly too feeble to express my feelings of sympathy at your great loss.
It was a most unfortunate accident, as your Son & Ellison were sitting in our Dug-out censoring letters when a shell came through the sand-bags severing your Son’s left leg & injuring the other to such an extent that it would ever have been useless — Ellison escaped with a slight
Ellison escaped with a slight wound on his elbow –
Your son was immediately taken down to hospital and expired on board a hospital ship early next morning.
As his constant companion for nearly a year I am proud to think that we had made a lasting friendship, & I cannot tell you how he will be missed as the best of good comrades –
Yours deeply sympathising
R. L. Peel
[Courtesy of the Royal Institution, RI MS RCB/B/01]
Letter from Gnr Cecil Charles Brown (D/58, 89441) to 2/Lt. Richard Blaker (D/58)
[Written from Ward 6C, 4 Scottish General Hospital, Glasgow. Undated, though letter was postmarked 29 November 1916 and Cecil had been wounded on the 17th of that month.]
Just a line to say as I got a Blighty alright matter of fact considerably more than I first thought expect it will mean a 3 or 4 month job. I cannot make out what it was, was it a German or a premature, would you mind letting me know Sir please. Whatever it was I’ve still a bit inside my chest very deep, expecting an operation any day now.
Ay well Sir I think I was fed up with having so many near shaves somehow that day I sort of felt that I should not last the day but, I cannot yet get the sight of Loader getting killed so near me the same morning.
I feel pretty well but awful pain when I can cough, I think I strained myself walking from the Battery to Payien. I certainly got there alright but went completely out of action then. I was simply soaked through & through with blood, I do not remember any more till I got to the Casualty Clearing Station, was there for 2 days & then on to Rouen was there for 4 days & then came on here where apparently they firmly believe in feeding patients well, 4 meals a day and plenty of milk & fruit.
I should liked to have been in the bombardment but I guess I’m better off here, Sir.
I don’t know of much more news now except to add that every success may be yours & you may be spared a safe return back to dear old Blighty.
Your obedient servant,
C C Brown.
PS If you have a few spare moments shall like to know how things are with the old Bat.
[Richard Sidney Blaker papers, 317, folios 285-287, courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford]
Letter from Gnr Cecil Charles Brown’s wife, Lisa E Brown, to 2/Lt. Richard Blaker, undated
42 Acacia Rd, Bourneville, Birmingham.
I feel I must write you a few lines to thank you very very much for your great kindness in writing me, re my dear husband, I thought it so kind of you & it relieved my mind so much, I can assure you.
I have received a few lines from him, but rather expected to have heard further before this, but am just leaving him in the hands of the one who has so wonderfully preserved him in the past, knowing full well its all in answer to prayer. In remembering him in the future I shall also remember you.
Trusting you too may yet be enabled to return to your loved ones
Again thanking you,
Believe me Yours Gratefully,
Lisa E Brown.
[Richard Sidney Blaker papers, 317, folios 288, courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford]
Last letter home from George Edward Flowers (D/58, 42713)
9 March 1917
Just a few lines in answer to your welcome letter.
I have been waiting anxiously for the last week, but I don’t mind that so long as it brings good news, but I know it must be terribly hard for you to struggle along with the high cost of living of today. How is it that Burt is at home, got too old for the job I suppose, but there ought to be plenty of work knocking about for chaps of his age. The weather is pretty rough at present blinding cold blizzards, but we shall soon have the summer on top of us now which makes the life in the open a pleasure.
What do you think of the advance? The papers talk so much of rot, too bad, but I have an idea it will finish about August.
Remember me to Mr & Mrs Jones and give them both my kindest regards and thank Mr Jones for the P.O.
You might send me Uncle Wal’s address so I might have the luck to meet him, as there are plenty of REs near us.
Well I hope this will find you all in the best of health and spirit as it leaves me and with my fondest love and heaps of kisses to all.
Your loving George
Après le guerre finis 25/5/1917
[Courtesy of Juliet Crowther]
Letter from 2/Lt. R Stephen Waldron to the War Office, 13 August 1917
Secretary, War Office Whitehall SW1
I beg to inform you that I am fit for duty, and shall return to France Aug 15th; date of extension granted.
R. Stephen Waldron 2/Lt.
D/58 Bde R.F.A.
[Courtesy of The National Archives, WO339/44388]
Letter from Bdr. George Aindow (C/58, 25163) to Miss R Colliss informing her of the death of her fiancé, Cpl. Ernie Inch (C/58, 21122) on 29 September 1917
Allow me the liberty of writing to you so that I may send you my deepest sympathy over the death of Corpl. E Inch. I do not suppose that you will have received an official intimation yet. Corpl. Inch was killed on the morning of the 29th of Sept., a shell dropping on the dugout in which he lay asleep. I thought I would write and let you know, because Ernie was such a good pal, he being with me at Norwich, Suvla, and Egypt; in fact we have been together ever since the beginning of the war. I attended his funeral, which took place on the 30th, and perhaps at some later date I may be permitted to tell you exactly where he is buried. He was well liked by us all, and I can assure you that we are all deeply moved by the loss of such a splendid comrade.
[Courtesy of John Manning]
Letter from Lt. Peter Hutchinson Wardlaw to the War Office, 30 January 1918
London S.W 1
I have the honour to present this my application for a special medical board on the state of my health, with a view to being invalided from the service due to wounds received in action.
My reference number – 136788/3.
Your Obedient Servant,
67 Machon Bank Road
[Courtesy of The National Archives, WO339/62653]
Letter from James Newlyn Gale to the War Office seeking employment in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Special Reserve), 30 June 1918
I enclose my application for a commission in the R.A.M.C. (S.R.). I have not obtained the medical certificate. If it is possible I submit that it would be most convenient for me to be examined at Cowley Barracks, near Oxford.
I should be glad if you could tell me if I could take a hospital appointment for 3 mos. Prior to joining up. [In pencil, someone has added “Yes if a teaching Hosp.”]
P.S. I enclose only one Naval Certificate but I could get another one from my first captain Commander R.V. Holt D.S.O., H.M.S. ”Redoubt” if necessary.
[Courtesy of The National Archives, WO339/96148]
Letter from Lt. Percy Tyson Lewis to the War Office, 29 January 1919
From Lt. (lately acting Capt.) P.T. Lewis R.F.A.
To The Secretary, War Office
Application for Refund re Surgical Boots
I have the honour to submit this my application for refund of the sum of £5.5 paid by me for surgical boots, in these circumstances. I was wounded near YPRES on September 29th 1917, the left femur being fractured. There is at present about 2” shortening of the left leg and I was told by the surgeon that a carefully-fitted surgical boot was necessary. I accordingly was fitted for and obtained the boots for which I enclose the receipt herewith.
On the receipt is endorsed a certificate that the boots are necessary, signed by G.C. Sneyd Esq FRCS in whose charge I am at present.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Lt RFA (SR)
(Lately acting Capt A/58 R.F.A.)
Lady Carnarvon’s Hospital
48 Bryanston Square
[Courtesy of The National Archives, WO339/38525]
Letter from Lt. Arthur Castle to Lt. Thomas Walter Manson, 24 April 1919
11 Western Gardens
Ealing, London W5
My dear Manson,
Don’t have a shock when you open this letter as you find enclosed the long promised photographs. I arrived home on leave this afternoon & found the prints had turned up two days ago – that’s what I call quick work!
Don’t know what’s happened to the ‘wee mon’, Rowbotham I heard could not get a ship for the east & had no chance of getting one for the next seven months so has re-joined, Simpson as far as I know is still with the battery if it has not been demobilised yet & Window is at the Indian R.A. Advanced Base Depôt, Rouen trying to learn Hindustani. John Walker is still dealing with wheat & I hope to lunch with him tomorrow if I can dig him out. Gnr Hemmings is still going strong but rather suspect him of fraternising with the Frauleins, – however “L’amour n’a pas la patrie” (please excuse if I have misquoted or made any grammatical errors).
I was sorry to hear that you have had Bronchitis but hope you have quite recovered by now. Shall be delighted to look you up when the opportunity presents but am afraid it won’t this leave.
I don’t know when I shall be demobilised but am not particularly anxious just yet, in fact I rather want to find a job as far away from England as possible.
Best of luck
Yours as ever,
[Thomas Walter Manson papers, H XIV I, courtesy of the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester]
Letter from George Stephenson Chapman to the War Office, 20 August 1920
Dr. G S Chapman
A/Batt 58th Bdge
Would you oblige me by forwarding my Discharged Badge to me as I have lost both my legs & I think it will be a bit of Protection for me when I am out & oblige your Obedient Servant,
G. S. Chapman
[Courtesy of The National Archives]
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