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Remembered Today:

Most poignant war letter?


Paul Hederer
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I was flipping through the channels last night and came on the last minutes of an espisode of Ken Burn's "The Civil War."

They read a letter, from a husband to his wife, that I remembered from watching the series before, and always has me near tears when I hear it.

It contains an emotional depth, and beauty of language that touches the heart all these years later.

Here is the letter:

July 14, 1861

Camp Clark, Washington

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt . . .

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . .

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again . . .

Does anyone have a war-time letter from the Great War that effected them in a deep way they would like to share?

Paul

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I saw the program as well - its an excellent series, one of the very best.

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Any idea who the writer was, Paul? One wonders if he survived. I`m often surprised by the ability of people in those times to express their feelings and tempted to think that they were much better at it than we are today. Phil B

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Any idea who the writer was, Paul? One wonders if he survived. I`m often surprised by the ability of people in those times to express their feelings and tempted to think that they were much better at it than we are today. Phil B

The writer was Major Sullivan Ballou of the Second Regiment, Rhode Island Volunteers.

He was killed sortly after. Actually he didn't mail the letter to his wife, but it was found when the family collected his remains, and she then got it.

Paul

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Some info on Ballou (from www.sullivanballou.com)

One such soldier was Major Sullivan Ballou of the Second Regiment, Rhode Island Volunteers. Then thirty-two years old, [sullivanBallou.com Webmaster Note: "His age may be off by a couple years, we're looking into it."] Ballou had overcome his family's poverty to start a promising career as a lawyer. He and his wife Sarah wanted to build a better life for their two boys, Edgar and Willie. An ardent Republican and a devoted supporter of Abraham Lincoln, Ballou had volunteered in the spring of 1861, and on June 19 he and his men had left Providence for Washington, D.C.

He wrote the following letter to his wife from a camp just outside the nation's capital, and it is at once a passionate love letter as well as a profound meditation on the meaning of the Union. It caught national importance 129 years after he wrote it, when it was read on the widely watched television series, "The Civil War," produced by Ken Burns. The beauty of the language as well as the passion of the sentiments touched the popular imagination, and brought home to Americans once again what defense of democracy entailed.

Ballou wrote the letter July 14, while awaiting orders that would take him to Manassas, where he and twenty-seven of his men would die one week later at the Battle of Bull Run.

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A heartfelt letter, on reading it, it very much reminds me of a poem in the Book Testament of Youth where Vera Brittain is remembering her brother.

When the vision dies in the dust of the marketplace,

When the light is dim.

When you lift up your eyes and can no longer see his face,

When your soul is far from him.

Know this is your life;

In this loneliest hour you ride, down the roads he once knew.

Though he comes no more;

At night, he will kneel by your side,

For comfort, to dream with you.

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I like this one. The author of the letter was to die not long after.

The author of the letter was Pte. William John Sinclair, 158185, 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, died on Oct. 1, 1916. Buried at Stump Road Cemetery, France.

His younger brother, Pte. Melville Sinclair, 158215, 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, was killed on Sept. 15, 1916. He is remembered on the Vimy Memorial.

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This letter has been in a few publications.

It’s from Lt Herbert Crowle of the 10th Bn AIF to his wife after he had been badly wounded at Pozieres.

Dearest Beat and Bill

"Just a line you must be prepared for the worst to happen any day. It is no use trying to hide things. I am in terrible agony. Had I been brought in at once I had a hope. But now gas gangrene has set in and it is so bad that the doctor could not save it by taking it off as it had gone to far and the only hope is that the salts they have put on may drain the gangrene out otherwise there is no hope. The pain is much worse today so the doctor gave me some morphia, which has eased me a little but is still awful. Tomorrow I shall know the worst as the dressing was to be left on for 3 days and tomorrow is the third day it smells rotten. I was hit running out to see the other officer who was with me but badly wounded. I ran too far as I was in a hurry and he had passed down the word to return, it kept coming down and there was nothing to do but go up and see what he meant, I got two machine gun bullets in the thigh another glanced off my water bottle and another by the periscope I had in my pocket, you will see that they will send my things home. It was during the operations around Mouquet Farm, about 20 days I was in the thick of the attack on Pozieres as I had just about done my duty. Even If I get over it I will never go back to the war as they have taken pounds of flesh out of my buttock, my word they look after us well here. I am in the officers ward and can get anything I want to eat or drink but I just drink all day changing the drinks as I fancy. The stretcher bearers could not get the wounded out any way than over the top and across the open. They had to carry me four miles with a man waving a red cross flag in front and the Germans did not open fire on us. Well dearest I have had a rest, the pain is getting worse and worse. I am very sorry dear, but still you will be well provided for I am easy on that score. So cheer up dear I could write on a lot but I am nearly unconscious. Give my love to dear Bill and yourself, do take care of yourself and him.

Your loving husband

Bert."

Lt Bert Crowle died the following day and is buried in Punchevillers British Cemetery.

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Really more anguished than poignant, Reverend Charles E. O. Griffith's letter to family friend regarding the death of his son, Lieutenant Thomas Comber Griffith, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, D.O.W. 8/7/19, in Russia, killed during a mutiny of the Slavo-British Legion during the anti-Bolshevik campaign:

"East Barsham Vicarage, Walsingham, Norfolk, 13/7/19

My dear old chap. After I posted to you on Saturday I got another wire about 6:30 p.m. "Deeply regret that Lieut. T.C.G. Loyal North Lancs died of wounds on 8th"

So there you have it and I confess the blow is for the time being a regular knockout blow to me. That boy was so much to me--I believe I to him-- and to the girls and now--well. I cannot tell you how I feel, just as if a part of my own life had been sliced off--he was always so full of beans--always ready for anything--chopping wood, gardening, or out with Sam? or --- on cycle --and an affectionate boy to us all. He love his home and belongings beyond anything in this world and was so happy when on his 7 week leave at Xmas. I cannot write more. I am too sad at heart but know he would wish me to buck up & not play the ass, only the man as he has always done--but its hard old chap & poor dear (Minnie?) is at Yarmouth & I fear spending a most miserable day as I had to wire the bare truth to her last night and she cannot get home today.

There, I feel I must let you run with as little delay as possible as I feel you will understand me, as you love your boys too.

yrs. always,

C.E.O. Griffith

You can tell Maude I cannot write more now & I thought you would have to read them for her anyhow.

Am so glad as the poor boy could not get well he did not have long to suffer as was wounded 7th died 8th July."

I've always thought that not only could I feel the Reverend's pain, but also how simply demoralizing the news of his son's death was to him.

Chris

(CWGC)

Name: GRIFFITH, THOMAS COMBER

Initials: T C

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Lieutenant

Regiment: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

Age: 24

Date of Death: 08/07/1919

Additional information: Son of The Rev. Charles E. O. Griffith, M.A., of East Barsham Vicarage, Walsingham, Norfolk. (buried Semenovka (Bereznik) Cem. Extension).

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: Sp. Mem. B54.

Cemetery: ARCHANGEL ALLIED CEMETERY

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Guest Simon Bull

Reading this, one is acutely conscious of the difficulties that Ballou's much-loved wife must have faced. Presumably, he having fought his way up from a poor background, she was left with minimal resources to bring two boys up. Anyone know what happened to her.

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  Does anyone have a war-time letter from the Great War that effected them in a deep way they would like to share?

Paul

A letter to his family from Don Donaldson, tells how his brave little brother died calmly in the battle of Fromelles.

Frank Donaldson, 3088, 60th Bn, AIF, KIA 19/7/16

On the last day of July, the family received a cable from Don informing them of his brother’s death – the following letter (extract), dated 15/8/16, was received at the end of September. Their father (after a sudden illness) had died only days before it’s arrival.

Don Donaldson, 3090, 60th Bn, AIF, lost his foot as a result of his wound.

2nd Southern General Hospital,

Bristol Royal Infirmary

15/8/16

I know you will be anxiously awaiting this letter, but I have not been feeling up to writing while lying on my back. We were no time in France before we were into the trenches, as you know by my other letters, and when it became known that we had to charge the German trenches on July 16th everybody was in a fever of excitement. Well, they kept postponing the charge until we believed it was all off. Wish to God it had been, but on the 19th, at 6.45 p.m., we had to go over the parapet 400 yards to the German line. We were in the second wave to "hopover," and things were very hot, bullets flying all round us. We got within 100 yards of the German trench when poor little Frank went down, badly hit in the groin. I ran to help him into a shell-hole close by, when I got one through a finger of the left hand - thought my hand was gone. Then, just as I got the poor kid to the hole, he got another through the same place, and one through the arm, and I got it in the foot - blew half my foot right open. I tried to bandage Frank, but our field dressings were not long enough, and I could not make a proper job of it. Then I tied a piece of string around my leg to stop the circulation of the blood, which stopped my foot from bleeding. Poor little Frank knew he was going, and asked me to say the Lord's Prayer with him, and said, "Poor old Dad." But he was as brave as could be, and when his time had come a few hours later he died game and said goodbye to me quite calmly. In fact, he took it a good deal better than I did. I would gladly have changed places with him, for he made me feel a bit of a coward, the calm way he was taking it. So you have something to be proud of, Dad, for he died the way you would have any of us die, and he has shown us the way. Anyhow, he has shown me. I never ventured out of the shell-hole that night, as shells were bursting quite close all night. My steel helmet stopped a couple of pieces from getting me in the head. I got back to our trenches next day, dead beat, and the first man to give me a drink and help me to the dressing station was young Jim Treacey, from Kerang. His company did not hop over, as they had been in the trenches a fortnight. The boys entered the German trench nearly along a front of 5000 yards, but the casualties were that heavy they had to retire, so our work went all for nothing - not an inch gained. ................................

[note: their brother Jack Donaldson was the famous Australian runner known as the ‘Blue Streak’]

Frev.

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One of my personal favourites was written by 7425 Private James Stallard, who served with the 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. In August 1914, he was called up from the Reserve, leaving his job as a carpenter in Northampton and his wife and baby daughter. His brother James served in the same battalion.

This particular letter was written on 24th September 1914, while his battalion were on the Aisne. It was sent back to his parents in New Bradwell in Buckinghamshire, who then passed it on to the Wolverton Express, which printed an extract from it:

“I beg for the finish of this war, and it is war – hell cannot be worse. It is just like waiting for death, but still, we are lucky enough to escape so far, and can safely say it is a game of luck, and trust luck will be with us to the end. Whoever is spared will have thoughts and “memories” of a war the like of which has never been before in history. One has only to think of the countries involved, the up-to-date guns we all have in action, and the range and power of the weapons in use, and try and form opinions of the result. We are not against a lot of farmers but against a nation of fighting material.

One of the most touching events I have seen in this war was in Belgium, in our advance and retirement on and from Mons. There we saw the most unfortunate people leaving what had once been their homes, with a bit of food all tied up in anything they could carry. Aged, young and babies – all destitute. We met them in the woods, in the fields, and in fact everywhere we went we found the poor terrified folk. It was heartrending. At one large house, as we advanced on Mons, the family were just leaving, and with eyes much swollen by crying, one young girl, about 22 or 23, unable to hold herself in check, ran forward at the sight of our troops and before we were aware of her intentions, had kissed several of us on both cheeks. That sort of thing tends to touch even the hardest of hearts. The people of Belgium behaved to us splendidly. Never to my dying day shall I forget their kindness."

Sadly, both Jack and Jim Stallard were killed in action together on 11th November 1914 at Nonne Boschen. They are both commemorated on the Menin Gate.

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This is the last letter of William Henry Watt Pte 5665 25 Btn Australian Infantry.

It is to his family who lived in Keswick Cumberland, UK. the thing that comes across most is his strong religious belief that they would all meet again in heaven and his certainty that he would die in the upcoming attack. As it turned out he was not right on this but only by a matter of a fortnight.

Harry was born 3rd August 1889 at 22 Rose Terrace, Keswick, their long time neighbours were the Evans family ( the Mrs Evans who was to give the letter to his mother.He had gone to Queensland in c1912.

Dated 16th/9 1917 Pte W.H Watt

25th Battalion A.I.F.

To my Dear Mother, Brothers and Sisters,

This is my last message to you all.

I am going into something great soon, and I may never

come out again. I am going in with a good will and I

don't feel frightened to die. We will all meet again in

heaven I hope. And this must be gods wish, don't fret

and worry over me. It would have been nice to have met

on earth again, but God's will be done. My message to

James is to always be good and stick to his mother.

I haven't time to write to you all and I am only allowed

the one letter now. We are well up to the front, and the

guns are thundering something terrific.

So Mother dear look on the bright side of things. I know

life's sweet but we all have to die sometime. There are

thousands besides me that may never come out, and

their all some poor mother's sons. I hope that it will soon

be over and that you will all soon be happy at home

again.

Write to Elsie for me I haven't left a letter for her..........

So now I will close with deepest love to you all. I trust

you will be comfortable and happy until god calls you all

into his fold where parting shall be no more.

Mrs Evans will give this to you.

So god bless and keep you all safe in his keeping. I am

quite prepared to die. So good bye till we meet again in

heaven I hope.

Always your loving son Harry.

Private William Henry Watt 5665 25 Btn Australian Infantry, the battle he was talking about was the first advance on Broodseinde Ridge 20th Sept 1917 which he came through in one piece, he was however killed in the second advance on 4th Oct, he has no known grave his name being on the Menin Gate panel 23.

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I've always thought the letter by Sullivan Ballou was one of the most moving letters I've ever read. If you have the soundtrack CD of the Ken Burns documentary 'The Civil War" it is recited with 'Ashokan Farewell' playing hauntingly in the background.

Tim L.

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A WW2 letter but as it left me so emotional I thought it worthy of inclusion, it was written by Ivor Rowbery of the South Staffords before he went to Arnhem to go to his mother in the event of his death. From what I have been told during the fighting in Oosterbeek he seemed certain he was going to die so (as I have read in other cases) he seemed to loose the will to seek cover and was last seen wandering about in the open - he was killed 22/9/44 and lies in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetary. I cant imagine how he felt writting it or how his mother felt reading it - even just reading it again now has a tear in my eye.

BLIGHTY,

Some time ago

Dear Mom,

Usually when I write a letter it is very much overdue and I must make every effort to get it away quickly. This letter, however is different. It is a letter I hoped you would never receive, as it is just a verification of that terse, black-edged card which you received some time ago, and which caused you so much grief. It is because of that grief that I wrote this letter, and by the time you have finished reading it I hope that it has done some good, and that I have not written in vain.

It is very difficult to write now of future things in the past tense, so I am returning to the present.

Tomorrow we go into action. As yet I do not know exactly what our job will be, but no doubt it will be a dangerous one in which many lives will be lost - mine may be one of those lives.

Well Mom, I am not afraid to die. I like this life, yes -for the past two years I have planned and dreamed and mapped out a perfect future for myself. I would have liked that future to materialise, but it is not what God wills, and if by sacrificing all this I leave the world slightly better than I found it I am perfectly willing to make that sacrifice. Don't get me wrong though, Mom; I am no flag-waving patriot, nor have I ever professed to be. England's a great little country - the best there is -but I cannot honestly and sincerely say "that it is worth fighting for". Nor can I fancy myself in the role of a gallant crusader fighting for the liberation of Europe. It would be a nice thought, but I would only be kidding myself. No, mom, my little world is centred around you, and includes Dad, everyone at home, and my friends at W'ton - that is worth fighting for - and if by doing so it strengthens your security and improves your lot in any way, then it is worth dying for too. Now this is where I come to the point of this letter. As I have already stated, I am not afraid to die, and am perfectly willing to do so, if, by my doing so, you benefit in any way whatsoever. If you do not then my sacrifice is all in vain. Have you benefited, Mom, or have you cried and worried yourself sick ? I fear it is the latter. Don't you see, Mom, that it will do me no good, and that in addition you are undoing all the good work I have tried to do. Grief is hypocritical, useless and unfair, and neither you or me any good. I want no flowers, no epitaph, no tears. All I want is for you to remember me and feel proud of me; then I shall rest in peace, knowing that I have done a good job. Death is nothing final or lasting; if it were there would be no point in living; it is just a stage in everyone's life. To some it comes early, to others late, but it must come to everyone some time, and surely there is no better way of dying.

Besides, I have probably crammed more enjoyment into my 21 years than some manage to do in 80. My only regret is that I have not done as much for you as I would like to do. I loved you Mom; you were the best mother in the world, and what I failed to do in life I am trying to make up in death, so please don't let me down, Mom, don't worry or fret, but smile, be proud and satisfied. I have never had much money, but what little I have is yours. Please don't be silly or sentimental about it, and don't try to spend it on me. Spend it on yourself or the kiddies, it will do some good that way. Remember that where I am I am quite O.K. and providing that I know you are not grieving over me I shall be perfectly happy.

Well, mom, that is all, and I hope I have not written it all in vain.

Good-bye, and thanks for everything.

Your unworthy son,

Ivor

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Sullivan Ballou's letter is indeed very moving and beautifully written. To continue the Civil War theme, I came across this letter from Abraham Lincoln to the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel William McCullough of the 4th Illinois Cavalry, who was killed on 5 December 1862 during a night charge near Coffeeville Mississippi.

Executive Mansion,

Washington, December 23, 1862.

Dear Fanny

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend

A. Lincoln

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TAYLOR JOSEPH WILLIAM,Age 20 2nd Bn., Sherwood Foresters, K.I.A. 9th August 1915. (Attack on Hooge Chateau) Commemorated menin Gate.

The distressing news was conveyed to Joe Taylors Parents in the following letter from L/Cpl. E. Bilbie, the letter dated 11th August.

Dear friends " I am writing a few lines to you on behalf of your dear son Joe as he was in my section and as I lived in the next Village a few years ago, he and I have been Pals. So I am very sorry to say that he was killed yesterday, 9th, in action while in a charge as he died a young hero and a man, surely he would have been mentioned for his bravery. He was well liked by us all and could not afford to lose a hero like him but thank god he died at his post, he was hit by a bullet and died in a second without uttering a word.

When the charge was over, we had the worst to go through, that was the roll call. We were very badly cut up, losing a terrible lot of men but still he will never be forgotten by all those living from the battle. We were fighting for 18 hours and never stopped we lost about 400 men from our Battalion. I will write you again when we have got this over and tell you all about it. I am very much upset at the present.

I saw a letter sent to him and when it came seeing that it came from Whitwell, I took charge of it and opened it in order to find your address and return the letter. He also had a parcel come and it was opened by my order and divided up amongst his comrades as we all make that "will" before we go into action, to share everything up and answer any letter that come for us.

I hope you will take note as a token from his comrades as he will be buried tonight and put with the other brave heroes. So I must give you all my hearts blessing and hope to see your loving Son's grave done tonight and I will put up a Cross.

L/Cpl. E Bilbie

B. Coy. 2nd Batt. Sherwood Foresters.

A simple letter from an ordinary Soldier.

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TAYLOR JOSEPH WILLIAM,Age 20 2nd Bn., Sherwood Foresters, K.I.A. 9th August 1915. (Attack on Hooge Chateau) Commemorated menin Gate.

    The distressing news was conveyed to Joe Taylors Parents in the following letter from L/Cpl. E. Bilbie, the letter dated 11th August.

  A simple letter from an ordinary Soldier.

Cliff, that is so so true. the letter is very poignant and shows the feeling of L/Cpl Bilbie for one of his "mates" deaths, and the emotional stress he must have went through to write the letter to Joe Taylors parents.

Thanks for sharing it with us.....

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Isaac Rosenberg's final letter contained the poem ‘Through These Pale Cold Days’, from where this extract is taken:

They leave these blond still days

In dust behind their tread

They see with living eyes

How long they have been dead.

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  • 2 years later...

Just came across this old thread.

Many that I find extremely poignant come from a French book "Paroles de Poilus: Lettres et carnets du front 1914 -1918". I find this one by Henry Floch particularily moving.*

*This is my translation of it.

My dear Lucie,

When this letter reaches you, I will have been shot dead.

Here is the reason:

On November 27th in a frontline trench, towards 5pm after a violent bombardment lasting 2 hours, whilst we were finishing some soup, some Germans landed in the trench and took me and two comrades prisoner. I took advantage of a moments tussle to escape from the hands of the Germans. I followed my comrades and now, I have been acused of abandoning my post in the presence of the enemy.

Yesterday we passed 24 hours in a courts martial. Six, of which I am one, have been condemned to death. I am no more guilty than the others, but an example must be made. My wallet and what is inside will be sent to you.

My last goodbyes to you are made in haste, my eyes full of tears, my soul grief stricken. On bended knee I humbly ask your forgiveness for all hurt and embarrassment that I am going to cause you.

My little Lucie, once again, forgive me.

Right this instant I am going to confession and I hope to see you again in a better world.

I die innocent of the crime of abandoning my post. If instead of escaping from the Germans I had remained their prisoner, I would still have a life. It is a fateful coincidence.

My last thoughts, until the end, are of you.

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I came across this passage on the site called the Virtual Wall.

The words are taken from a letter written in 1943 by an American stretcher bearer serving in North Africa.

How often you will have me near you

when wood smoke drifts across the wind,

or the sky darkens in a summer storm.

Think of me in the days to come,

as I am thinking of you this minute,

not gone or alone or dead,

but part of the earth beneath you,

part of the air around you,

part of the heart that must not be lonely.

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Below is some letters written by my one of girlfriends relatives 2nd Lieutenant Percy William Lee, who disappeared during the battle of Arras. His body was never found and he is now listed on the memorial to the missing. There seems to have been some confusion as his sister Violet was sent two telegrams, one saying he was dead and the other saying he was wounded. From this, she seems to have grasped at a small strand of hope that maybe a mistake had been made and he was actually still alive somewhere.

When I read the originals sitting in the National Archives, they really moved me.

14/6/1917

Sir,

Have you received any further information about my Dear Brother 2/Lieut P. W. Lee who was reported to me first wounded April 9th then killed April 8th. I cannot seem to get to know anything definite about him at all, everything seems so vague.

Can you possibly give me a little hope to believe that he is still alive somewhere, as I have not had any of his personal things returned. Thanking you in advance for an early reply. Yours faithfully, Violet Lee.

------------------------

20th June, 1917

The military secretary presents his compliments to Miss Lee, and in reply to her letter of the 17th June, begs to say that a confirmatory report has been received which leaves no doubt whatever that her brother 2nd Lieut P W Lee was kiled in action on 8th April 1917.

The military secretary is desired by the Secretary of State for War to express his deepest sympathy with Miss Lee in the loss of her gallant brother.

-------------------

13/2/1918 (months later!)

Dear Sir,

Can you give me any further information about my Dear Brother P W Lee who was reported wounded then killed. In August I was then informed that he was missing. I shall be so very grateful to you if you will let me know whether the last report Missing is still the final, so that I can hope of receiving better news soon. I have not heard from the Graves commission at all, so feel quite sure he must be somewhere. Thanking you in anticipation for an early reply,

Yours truly, Violet Lee.

Percy's half brother Frank was killed during the Battle of the Somme the previous year. Their father was himself a war hero having served in the South African and Ashanti campaigns. His own father was killed during the Indian Mutiny at Lucknow.

A picture of the family is here. Violet Lee, the writer of the letters, is in the top row second from left sandwiched between her two brothers who both died. Their war hero father is on the far left of the picture.

914b12de-d3cf-48f2-bac3-ad5088b34afe-1.j

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This letter from Mrs Charlotte White, the mother of Frederick Arthur White who was listed as missing in action on 3rd September 96 at the Battle of Mouquet Farm pulls at my heartstrings - she just sounds so desperate.

After sending a number of letters to the RCWM enquiring if they know anything of her son, she again writes in 1919 on hearing that they are closing down the RCWM files -

'Dear Miss Whybrow,

thank you very much for your kind letter to me in letting me know that your office is closing down. I am sure I cannot know how to thank you enough for trying to do all you can for me in searching for my dear son Pte. Frederick White 1745. It has been a long dreary many months not to know the real whereabouts of him but let us hope I shall know some time.

I know I am not the only one by thousands but the true saying every mother for her own child. I am sure when mothers have told me the loss of their dear sons I have said to them you ought to go down on your knees and thank our Heavenly Father for taking them as they do know the real end. Here I am can't get to know nothink of my dear boy I am sure.

I again thank you dear Miss Whybrow for all your kindness,

yours truly,

Mrs White

hoping to hear some time some news of my dear son.

_________________________

Strangely enough in the RCWM file for Pte White, there is a report dated 14 September 1916 from Pte Dickinson (also of the 51st) who states that he was lying wounded in a shell hole during the battle of Mouquet Farm and was joined by Pte Frederick White who was also wounded. Dickinson reports that shortly thereafter 'a bomb fell on him and splintered him and he died soon afterwards'. Dickinson reports that he took his paybook and photos and is told my the writer of the report to send these to the Base Depot......

but from the tone of the mother's letters (and the RCWM correspondence) it appears as if his mother never receives this information.

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