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Remembered Today:

Letters home to the next of kin of the fallen


CarylW

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Most probably talked about before on here but we are allowed to discuss things again (before anyone throws that old turkey "this has been discussed before" at me!) Always strikes me what a difficult job it must have been for officers to write letters home to the next of kin of the fallen men in their units.

The officers, mostly only young men themselves having most probably lived through the hellish battles themselves and maybe suffering from what we would today recognise as 'Post traumatic shock' having to sit down and write letters, possibly many of them if losses were heavy, and struggle to find some small crumb of comfort for the family members back home. I know it was part of their job, they just knuckled down to it and many just wrote the standard "he fought bravely to the end" which would in itself be comforting and may not be of course, in some cases, entirely true. The kindness and humanity of many of them, where the officer has tried to find bravery in the last action of the fallen man just shines through and of course many of them went on to lose their own lives

One I read recently written home by a Lieutenant 255th Bde Royal Field Artillery to a widow :

...On the day in question, he was holding mine and another officer's horse, when a shell burst, killing himelf and the horses. Beyond having thus given his life for his king and county, he was the means of saving the lives of eighteen men who were in a group behind, and would have all been killed but for his bearing the brunt of the burst

Possibly some truth, would he have saved so many lives by taking the brunt of this? who knows but of some comfort to a grieving widow maybe

I'm sure there are many more examples of this kind of humanity and kindness

Caryl

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Most probably talked about before on here but we are allowed to discuss things again (before anyone throws that old turkey "this has been discussed before, yawn" at me!)

.....................................................

Caryl

When it is pointed out that there is an existing thread or threads on a subject, that can only be helpful? If someone is looking for information, being told that a search will turn up a lot of it already in existence is not intended to stop the discussion but to widen it and deepen it. 

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Thanks Caryl,

What gets me is that (obviously) you never really see a bad one, which is fine, but you can't then tell who the really brave soldiers were!

Chris

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When it is pointed out that there is an existing thread or threads on a subject, that can only be helpful? If someone is looking for information, being told that a search will turn up a lot of it already in existence is not intended to stop the discussion but to widen it and deepen it. 

OK Tom, I consider myself well and truly smacked on the hand for that cheek. I agree, but in many cases discussions ARE stopped abruptly with every intention of preventing any more discussions on that very subject (not by moderators, usually grumpy old ....) as I'm sure many a newbie, if they had the nerve that is, would tell you!

Caryl

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OK Tom, I consider myself well and truly smacked on the hand for that cheek. I agree, but in many cases discussions ARE stopped abruptly with every intention of preventing any more discussions on that very subject (not by moderators, usually grumpy old ....) as I'm sure many a newbie, if they had the nerve that is, would tell you!

Caryl

I was a total newbie myself, not long ago. I am still a newbie in most of the sections and I welcome all the help I can get, I certainly need it.  I find it hard to believe that a discussion has died because a poster was told that there was already a thread. More likely to add fuel to the fire, I'd have thought. It may be that a query on the lines of whether the Black Watch were all Dundonians may end when the inquirer is recommended to do a search. As for Old Grumpie, he doesn't mean it, just leave him be.  :D

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When it is pointed out that there is an existing thread or threads on a subject, that can only be helpful? If someone is looking for information, being told that a search will turn up a lot of it already in existence is not intended to stop the discussion but to widen it and deepen it. 

And avoid going over the same old ground again and again

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QUOTE (centurion @ Dec 2 2009, 01:41 PM) And avoid going over the same old ground again and again

This is exactly the type of opinionated thinking I was referring to. What is wrong with discussing the same subject with possibly different posters contributing and who is to say what is 'old ground'. Members new to the forum might have something extra to add that has not been discussed before and why can they not start a completely new topic on a subject. They can of course but are often prevented and new posters scared off by the death knell of the 'oh grumpy ones' saying "this has been discussed before"

Tom wrote "I find it hard to believe that a discussion has died because a poster was told that there was already a thread."

Oh believe Tom, believe, because it has and does happen. I have witnessed it with my own eyes and if I had time I would search to show you examples

My own inbox also bears testimony from those who have been stopped in their tracks in this way

I have referred members of my forum to this forum for a number of years for answers to queries on the Great War that our own resident military expert (who is excellent) cannot answer. I've lost track of the number of people who have PM'd me there recently to say they are too scared to post here "in case it has been asked before", or "I'm too scared", one recent example was from someone whose ancestor was highly decorated and would have been interesting to read about, they posted a few times but were too nervous to post asking anything else. Why is this happening? This is still a great forum and I love it, have had lots of help here and I read interesting posts each day but some of the spirit has gone from here and I hate to say it.

This forum is not just for experts to talk to each other, it is for everyone with a query about any Great War related topics and those of you who have been around here maybe a bit too long and are feeling a certain 'ennui' with new posters queries or new topics that "have already been discussed" may think on about moving on, or taking a breather to remember how you felt when you were new here once

Well I might as well close this topic since it wasn't my intention for it to end up like this

Caryl

Topic now closed by me.

Re-opened at the request of a mod

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To return to the original query ...

I believe that young officers could seek guidance, either from their company commanders or the battalion padre or MO, as to how to convey to the grieving relative anything which might comfort them in their loss. The relatives would already know about the death through the official channels.

Bear in mind that in most cases, the relatives would only receive one such letter whereas the officer might have to write dozens. If a certain formulaic approach crept in, it would be unlikely to be noticed by the recipients.

"He was killed instantly" and "He fought bravely to the end" might not always be strictly true but would soften the blow for the bereaved. If the circumstances of his death were for some reason gruesome or discreditable, no good purpose would be served by inflicting these facts on the relatives.

Ron

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Topic now closed by me. Re-opened at the request of a mod

That was me - as I'm sure other forum members might like to contribute to this discussion, I asked Caryl to re-open the thread.

My feeling is that when a factual question is being asked, one that can reasonably be expected to have been answered before, then recommending using the search facuility is fine. However, with a topic like this, expressing an opinion or inviting a discussion, I don't see why a new thread shouldn't be opened. This certainly isn't a topic that I can remember being "done to death"

We have dozens of new members joining the forum every week, and they should all be made to feel welcome while they find their feet.

Alan

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Bear in mind that in most cases, the relatives would only receive one such letter whereas the officer might have to write dozens. If a certain formulaic approach crept in, it would be unlikely to be noticed by the recipients.

"He was killed instantly" and "He fought bravely to the end" might not always be strictly true but would soften the blow for the bereaved. If the circumstances of his death were for some reason gruesome or discreditable, no good purpose would be served by inflicting these facts on the relatives.

Ron

I quite agree with Ron on this - adopting a "formulaic approach", with suitable additions concerning the individual involved, would be the easiest way of dealing with this IMHO. Not only because of the number of letters that had to be written on some occasions but for the mental well being of the Officer writing the letters.

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......... Members new to the forum might have something extra to add that has not been discussed before and why can they not start a completely new topic on a subject. They can of course but are often prevented and new posters scared off by the death knell of the 'oh grumpy ones' saying "this has been discussed before"

Well said, Caryl. Good for you.

It's very easy to put the inexperienced off and, if some find it irritating to have subjects revisited, then they can always ignore them; they aren't compelled to participate.

As regards letters from officers I have seen all varieties. Some show a level of detail that indicates the writer was personally acquainted with the individual; others are more generalised and formulaic. I guess that after an action in which many letters had to be written there will be a certain amount of repetition. One thing I have found though is that while it might have taken an officer a few days to get round to writing a letter, often the man's mates would tend to be writing back home more or less straight away. When you can find a letter quoted from both sources it's good to compare them to see if there have been any embellishments or omissions. By and large in the examples I have found, the narrative always seems to be consistent. Hence I don't think that officers "bigged up" the men they were writing about - there would have been some truth in the example you posted.

Andy.

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Alan wrote: "I asked Caryl to re-open the thread."

So did I.

He also wrote:

"We have dozens of new members joining the forum every week, and they should all be made to feel welcome while they find their feet."

I am one of those and I simply love to read the forum. Loads of interesting subjects and a combined knowledge in Nobel prize class.

But....

What I am going to say now is in no way directed against any particular person:

I´m sure that I´m not alone in feeling that there sometimes is a climate that doesn´t encourage postings.

I would be more active e.g. if there had been an atmosphere were you would be directed to the right topic.

Again, I´m not pointing in any specific direction and unfortunately I´m afraid that I´m not alone in feeling this way. :(

Chris

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I have often wondered if such letters softened the blow by being slightly economical with the truth. In this particular case I have not found any other accounts of the death (though I do know about the action, in which this Bn suffered heavily) so I have to take the letter at face value !

This is (part of) what the Bn adjutant wrote to my great grandparents after the death of my great uncle

I can only say that your son met a soldier's death in the most soldier like manner. He was leading his men forward to the German trenches when he fell, shot through the head. His end was indeed a painless one, and surely it must be better to fall thus than to die of wounds after a year of fighting as several of his comrades did.

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[quote name

Topic now closed by me

Caryl,

I possess a bland announcement,in the Local Paper,which a Forum Member found,during his own research,,announcing that my Uncle had been killed in action.Whether a personal letter had been sent,to the Family,and the additional,personal information i.e.marital status,pre-War employment,was supplied by the Family is open to debate.Certainly any personal letter does not survive but my Father,knew his Brother's last sighting prior to his death,in his own mind.Whether this was by talking to men whom he knew, and who survived ,the engagement or whether he chose to put his own spin,by clutching at straws,and was happy to accept a version of the truth,from veterans,who knew his Brother,but were not prepared to expand is open to debate.

The Forum is an International one,and people arrive at it in different ways,e.g, from Family History research.Some "new recruits" merely pass by in order to update their Family History,as they find Ancestor,was involved in WW1.For them I would recommend the search facility,because they will often find both the Regiment(I use this term loosely),and in-depth discussions about said Regiment's service,in WW1.

Tom,quite reasonably,has a particular love for Dundee,and it should never be forgotten,that his memories are both of that City,and of men who served in WW1,and were prepared to open their minds,to him,of their experiences in War,as the most junior,in the Firm,he worked for at that time.

When I was a junior employee,in Aberdeen,one of the senior staff, whom I respected,would innocently mention his pre-War WW2 Service in India .The fact that,according to him,his lungs were clear as a bell,after smoking 40 Senior Service a day,is open to debate,but his service was never in question,and just accepted.

An abstract question to your question,and this is where the Forum prospers.

Forum Members choose,to further your research,in the written word,but we choose not to discuss it.

George

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This is exactly the type of opinionated thinking I was referring to. What is wrong with discussing the same subject with possibly different posters contributing and who is to say what is 'old ground'. Members new to the forum might have something extra to add that has not been discussed before and why can they not start a completely new topic on a subject. They can of course but are often prevented and new posters scared off by the death knell of the 'oh grumpy ones' saying "this has been discussed before"

Topic now closed by me.

Re-opened at the request of a mod

Thanks mod - I think making an insulting remark about another members posting and then closing the thread before a reply is at best akin to snotty nosed kids shouting abuse through the letter box and then running away.

We have had many occasions when the same tired old arguments have been repeated over and over again and we also get requests for information from some who either don't know about the search facility (now much improved in the beta release) or can't be bothered to look. It is always open to anyone to reinvigorate an existing earlier thread if they feel that they have something  new to add to it (and some do ) and this is much to be encouraged. This will definitely deepen and widen the discussion. No one wants to discourage postings from new members merely to point them to where they can get the relevant information.

On the subject of letters to next of kin the practice seems to have varied from unit to unit with sometimes quite senior officers making the effort to write but I suspect when there is a significant number of casualties doubtless it had to be deputed to company commanders and below. No one would be crass enough to write anything like "he was standing quavering in his boots when the bullet hit him" even though this must have been the case in some instances. After all the brave and the timorous both put themselves in harms way and often paid the price. Similarly no one in the letters died screaming in agony even though again this must have sometimes have been the case. We should not look to such letters for any substantive information as to what really happened. I know that the same happened in WW2 and I strongly suspect in every subsequent conflict to the present day.

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My Grandmother received a letter in fairly good English from a German doctor in the hospital my Grandfather died in. It detailed his wound and the results and explained what had happened to the contents of his pockets. Mainly distributed to other patients but some returned, photos, letters and his pipe. 

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"He was running away, so I shot him"

I read a letter (which I now can't find) yesterday, which said that an officer was so beloved by his men that a sergeant led a party in to no-man's land trying to save him, but the sergeant was killed in the attempt.

I wasn't sure what the relative would have made of that.

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I was researching a local soldier to me who's medals I have in my possesion. The libraries microfilm showed a letter published at the time of his death that the young mans mother recieved from one of his pals. It stated he was shot through the head by a sniper when they were been relieved (from Trones Wood) and he died about an hour later.

I'm not sure if this was the best choice of words for a mother to hear.

Neil

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...The relatives would already know about the death through the official channels...

Ron

How often was this the case, I wonder, Ron?

Was an officer at liberty to send a letter directly to the next-of-kin as soon as he was able, or did he have to observe some protocol in the matter?

I can imagine that the official process of notification of the next-of-kin will have properly taken some time, especially following an action in which there were many casualties – checking and re-checking returns and so on to avoid giving next-of-kin wrong information of the worst kind.

In a local newspaper article reporting the death in action of my grand-uncle, my great-grandparents informed the newspaper they had “heard from an officer of a British Expeditionary Force of the death of…”

Perhaps this is how the next-of-kin heard the news first in many cases?

Bryan

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"Centurion" writes "I think making an insulting remark about another members posting and then closing the thread before a reply is at best akin to snotty nosed kids shouting abuse through the letter box and then running away"

Point taken, but I did not close the thread to "run away". (and I'm not a "snotty nosed kid" laugh.gif )

I quite enjoy, and I am more than capable of holding my own for a bit of verbal sword fighting in any 'debate' and at least I have the guts to use my own name whilst doing so and not hiding behind a "nom de plume" to voice my opinions

I closed the thread because I didn't want to cause any trouble here, as in my opinion, the thread had degenerated into something that was not my original intention.

"Centurion" also wrote "We have had many occasions when the same tired old arguments have been repeated over and over again and we also get requests for information from some who either don't know about the search facility (now much improved in the beta release) or can't be bothered to look. It is always open to anyone to reinvigorate an existing earlier thread if they feel that they have something new to add to it (and some do ) and this is much to be encouraged."

How very patronising and it is big of you to admit that "some do" have something new to add! You may find that given the chance, many do

Oh and ermm, wasn't it you who started this thread about the difficulties of using the search feature

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...howtopic=135885

They may be 'tired old arguments' to you but not to others new to the subject who may wish to contribute and discuss these matters themselves as I posted earlier and as someone suggested if you are fed up with the "tired old arguments" being discussed once more, then don't read them, simple as that

There is a huge difference between pointing someone to a helpful thread and telling someone to go off and search. It is very offputting to newer members and prevents a lot from asking queries

Thanks to those who contributed here who did understand my meaning in the original post and in my subsequent posts

Thanks to those who patted me on the head and gave me a little lecture on how the forum works - it did make me smile biggrin.gif

Caryl

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Thanks again Caryl,

I do honestly want to add to this debate and am upset that to a certain extent it has been politically hijacked. Let's get back to the basics and I will publish a number of comments from letters home that I have on those on my research list.

Why not, please, all stick to this on this thread now!

Chris

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How often was this the case, I wonder, Ron?

Was an officer at liberty to send a letter directly to the next-of-kin as soon as he was able, or did he have to observe some protocol in the matter?

Bryan

I honestly don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that a return of casualties, especially killed and missing, was supposed to be compiled by a unit "immediately" after an action, and sent to the AG's Office at the Base (Rouen) where relevant details were passed on to the War Office so that relatives could be notified.

As this was a priority within the unit, it would almost certainly have been attended to before officers started to write letters to the next of kin at home. In any case, officers would know, or be quickly told by their seniors, that it was perhaps unwise to write before the death had been officially notified to them by the War Office telegram.

But, as I said, I don't know. What I have said is supposition only.

Ron

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The man I am researching, Chaplain Charles Dobson, was present when his colleague, Rev Grant, was killed at Hill 60 in August 1915.

In light of 'softening the blow' for the recipient of a letter, the following is interesting:

"Mediterranean Expeditionary Force

Chaplain's Department

Damel Jelek Bair, Gallipoli Peninsula,

August 30, 1915

Dear Mrs Grant,

I'm writing as a friend of your husband's, for we were in camp at Oringi (1913) together, and have been side-by-side in the Mounted Brigade at Zeitun and during the last days of the splendid work here. To know him was to admire his manliness and high sense of Christian duty and service. He has died the noblest death while knowing the danger and ministering to others. A few words concerning his last days will, I'm sure, be of interest to you and yours. I write in pencil, as ink is unobtainable. We are linked up again on Thursday morning, August 26th, and had a long talk over our experiences and work. He was most anxious for news of his boys. We attended that afternoon a Mounted Brigade parade, when General Godley spoke of the coming battle and charge. Next morning we visited the field ambulance dressing station, close to the fight firing line, and arranged our work as far as possible. The major looked pretty well, very tanned. He turned in early for a good sleep. Next morning, August 27, he went through his correspondence and left everything in order. I could see that everywhere he moved and spoke cheery words of greeting, he was highly respected and esteemed by officers and men. Together after the heavy bombardment we went out of the trenches, and till late at night assisted in bringing in wounded, giving them comfort, assisting the doctors, and praying with the dying. At midnight I persuaded him to turn in for a sleep in his dug out. He had stood the strain of former battles, and I was in a fitter form, so he remained till the main rush was over. Again on Saturday morning we went out, accompanied by Chaplain Captain Dobson, who had just arrived. At the dressing station we parted to pursue different routes through the trenches, looking for wounded needing assistance and to encourage the brave boys in the fight. At 12.30, hearing that there were possibly wounded among the bushes, I crawled over the trenches and sought amongst the brambles in vain, and I roll back into the trenches unseen at 12.45. At that very time in another part, the brave husband of his death.[?]

He had gone in another direction with Dobson, and they went unwittingly along an old trench beyond our guards. There they found two or three wounded Britishers and a wounded Turk, all lying among dead Turks in a shallow trench. They ministered to their immediate needs and promised to send help. Thinking others might be further on, they thought of proceeding a little further, but they got into Turkish trenches, and suddenly Turks appeared around a "V" corner, and seeing strangers, fired. It is not believed they knew they fire on Red Cross helpers, for Turks had given our wounded water. They probably thought a charge was coming. The first shot knocked the Major over, and Dobson escaped unhurt. We were not allowed that day to go out and search for traces of him. We expected he had been taken prisoner, and would be well treated. But at night the Australians took more ground, and Major White on Sunday morning (29th) sent for Captain Dobson to go with him in search. I Went with. We were not greatly molested, except for an occasional shot, and on reaching the trench immediately saw that death had mercifully been instantaneous, were shot having entered the neck just above the chest. We reverently brought him to a sheltered spot, but could not until night-time get the body sent out owing to snipers. The work was completed at night. We have brought the body to a quiet resting place in the gallery close to his dug out in Damel Jelek Bair. I have sent word to Chaplain Captain King, and tonight the last rites will be observed. As they were at work the Major said, "This is the valley of the Shadow of Death." "Yes," replied Captain Dobson, "but if one is to go there are worse ways of going." "This is the best way," was the Major's emphatic rejoinder. That was practically his last word. He used to speak to the men about playing the game and following the way of Christ. He has done so most worthily himself. We deeply mourn his loss, but glory in his heroism and faithfulness. God richly comfort you and yours, and the Church in Gisborne. We shall erect a cairn of stones to mark the resting place.

With sincere sympathy, I am your faithfully, H L BLAMIRES, Chaplain-Captain (from Wanganui.)

PS On the day preceding the end the Major and I were photographed together by our dug out. I will send you a copy when I get it developed, also one of the quiet Dere where rests his body. HLB.

Source In Memorandum Chaplain Major William Grant His Letters from the Front Page 89 to 91

Note the description of William Grant's death by Blamires is at variance to what is described in Terry Kinlock's Echoes of Gallipoli page 245 where Grant is described as being 'bayoneted' not shot."

All of the above is quoted from Zack's post #14 http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...09&hl=otago

Then in post #34 of the same topic, I add:

"Terry Kinloch has very kindly clarified his sources for the incident on 28th August 1915 when Chaplain Grant was killed. In his e-mail he says:

"There is a reference to Grant's death in Wilkie, on pages 65-66, but not the manner of his death. Rev Dobson is not mentioned by name - he is referred to as 'another clergyman'. Wilkie does not mention how Grant died - just that he was killed.

The Andrews reference (Kiwi Trooper) states (p.130): 'The padre was bayoneted instantly before they recognised his Red Cross armband, but his comrade was spared.' The comrade is un-named."

"Twisleton does refer to Grant's death in a letter, but I don't have that source to hand."

In response to the suggestion that Blamires chose to describe Grant's death by shooting rather than bayoneting in order to soften the blow for his widow, Terry says: "This is entirely possible. A death by shooting does make more sense - a Turk firing his rifle would be an instantaneous reaction, whereas a bayoneting is a bit more personal, and takes a bit more time - time in which to see the Red Cross armband and hold off." "

I've since checked out Twistleton's letter, and it does not mention 'bayoneting', and neither do any other of the accounts I have read - so far.

I also speculate about the veracity of the exchange between the two chaplains - 'there are worse ways of going' - being possibly fabricated for the benefit of Mrs Grant.

Joanna

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A relative of mine was promoted from the ranks and sent home on an officers training course. He rejoined his unit as a 2nd Lt. then within a days he was acting C/O, decimation of officers. He then had to write the letters, as many of the men were new, following on from the Mons retreat, he had probably not even seen some of them, never mind knowing anything about them. How on earth was he supposed to write anything other than the standard "he was a popular dedicated soldier and will be sadly missed." Something we hear all to often on the television still today.

On one of Ian Hislops (is that correct spelling) programs , he told the story of a London window cleaner who happened to recognise a photo of a dead comrade through a window he was cleaning. He told the widow/mother he knew the man intimately, and of the circumstnces of his death, horid as compared to the clinical death as deascribed by the mans c/o.

A copy of a letter I have (somewhere) from a c/o, tells a mother of the death of her two sons on the same day, and how their bodies lay out on the field for weeks before they were able to be recovered, and then laid to rest. How would you like to know that your only two sons were not only dead but were lieing in a battlefield for weeks!

Padre's often wrote letters to desceased relatives, as opposed to O/Cs. I was at his bedside when he died being a typical format, comforting to a mother.

Sensitivity was depleted in the war, one way or another, but Im sure the bearers of ill tidings did their best not to make peoples woe worse than it need be. At some time we all comit a little white lie to spare the discomfort of others, or maybe soften the effect of something on ourselves.

As to the banter going on in this thread, my comment has to be "why do the mod's close threads just because some one requests it?" Leave the ****** things open so in the future some one can add something relative with out starting a new topic, they are not personal property!

Alan

Edited by MagicRat
Mild swearing
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Thanks again Caryl,

I do honestly want to add to this debate and am upset that to a certain extent it has been politically hijacked. Let's get back to the basics and I will publish a number of comments from letters home that I have on those on my research list.

Chris

Chris

Post away, I'd like to read your contributions. Sorry if things got a bit hairy!

I've changed the title slightly from "Officers writing home to..etc", to "Letters home...."because of course it wasn't only officers who wrote home to the next of kin

Ghost, I'm not a Mod. I closed the thread. A Mod asked me to re-open it.

Caryl

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