Soldiers' Letters from the Frontline Chart an Emotional Journey through War History; EVERY LETTER WANTED TO SAY TO SOMEONE 'I LOVE YOU'

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 11, 2011 | Go to article overview

Soldiers' Letters from the Frontline Chart an Emotional Journey through War History; EVERY LETTER WANTED TO SAY TO SOMEONE 'I LOVE YOU'


Byline: CLARE HUTCHINSON

* OME are sorrowful, others matter-of-fact - while one or two are even humorous.

Farewell letters from servicemen on the front line to their loved ones back home are the subject of a new book by a Welsh historian and TV producer.

Sin Price began researching the subject when her friend, Siobhan McClelland, was forced to pull out of a radio programme and she took over.

That chance job led to the idea for her book and three years of research that took her as far afield as Australia, Japan and the USA, visiting museums and record offices and trawling through thousands of letters home.

The final result, called If You're Reading This... charts an emotional course through farewell letters from the Napoleonic Wars to Afghanistan. Ms Price, who lives and works in Cardiff, said: "Overwhelmingly, every letter wanted to say to someone, 'I love you' and 99.9% all said that.

"But looking over a course of 300 years you start to see a real change in soldiers. In the American Civil War the letters were all very religious, but also very politically savvy.

"In the First World War they are all letters to mothers, which gives you a clue as to the age of the soldiers, while in both the First and Second World Wars there is a belief that they are going to change the world and make the world a better place.

"When you get to the Falklands and Iraq and Afghanistan you get a sense of people wanting to do a job and serving Queen and country but not that same noble element."

One of the earliest letters Ms Price discovered dated from a few hours after the Battle of Fontenoy during the War of Austrian Succession in 1745, in which Phil Browne confided to his brother: "I have a calm mind and don't fear anything from the consequences of death, being perfectly resigned to the will of the great and Incomprehensible Being who hath a just right to recall it when and in what manner he pleases."

One of the most extraordinary examples came in a father's astonishingly candid farewell to his children during the Second World War.

Private Frank Lee was having marital difficulties when he told his children: "That's your Mother, who has ruined my home and happiness.

"I wish it could be different but it can't be. I pray I may get safely home to you and do for you what I know a woman who is so unfaithful to her home and husband never will or can do."

He survived and, on his return home, divorced his wife.

* If You're Reading This..., by Sin Price, will be available from Frontline Books for pounds 19.99 from November 28 PRIVATE GEORGE HENRY DAVIES PRIVATE Davies was born in Montgomery in 1889 and emigrated to Australia as a Protestant missionary. On January 21, 1916, he decided to join up, "to make a sacrifice on behalf of my country", and enlisted at Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.

He was killed at Messines, July 12, 1917.

After he died, a farewell letter was found in his diary to his beloved friend and "adopted brother" Willie.

"This will be the last time I shall write in this diary before the 'Great Push'. It may be the last time I shall ever write.

I am just taking these last few minutes at my disposal to pen this letter to you, and even as I write I am expecting to be called away.

The time is now ripe for the moment when we 'go over the top' and advance on the enemy trenches; I am to go with the boys and am not sorry to be able to do so.

I am quite ready dear laddie, I have made my peace with God, and am trusting in Christ my Saviour to bring me to Eternal Light.

I am looking forward to this 'push' to bring me a happy release from further military life which I hate, and I hope to be wounded and sent home, or else be killed, either are preferable to this hell on earth.

Now Willie dear, you will see in this diary how I love you; you are my adopted brother, your sweet, beautiful 'boy' influence lingers with me as I write these last few lines, and I want to say that I shall think of you right to the end, and I shall pray to God to keep you in His Care. …

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