Monday, 17 June 2013

'My darling wife, I wish with all my heart this terrible war was over'

A WW1 postcard shows how easy
it was for men to fall prey to
loneliness in the trenches

Who should we feel most sorry for during the First World War? The men who fought and witnessed such horror that meant, even if they survived, they would never be the same again? Or women who were left to cope alone with the children and the shortages ... and the fear that they may never see their loved ones again?

Having spent some time researching the lives of the latter I've tended to sympathise with their plight perhaps a little more than the men, who at least played an active part in it all. What could be worse than being the passive party, worn out by domestic life and living in constant fear of the dreaded letter or telegram?

Then, unexpectedly, I came across a soldier's letter so moving that I realised it was pointless trying to decide who had the better deal during the Great War. There were no winners.

When Private Phillip Loxton, a volunteer soldier from Abertillery in South Wales, wrote to his wife in June 1915 the initial excitement of combat had worn off. He'd been ground down by trench life, had just seen a good friend killed, and in his loneliness he began to fear that his family might be forgetting about him.

Mr Darling Wife,
I had very near thought that you had forgot me for it is a full week since I heard from you last and I can assure you it have troubled me awful for I always looks out for a letter from you every three days, even it it is the same news over again. For then I think that you are thinking about me as I do you, for I can assure you that you and the childen are never out of my mind.
There are many nights that I can't put you and the children out of my sight, even if you are miles away from me I can see you all in life and I wish with all my heart that this terrible war was over. For I find it very lonely now that I have lost my chum, for he was a good old sort in his way, for it cut me up awful when I heard he was killed.

Tragically, Private Loxton would never see his wife and two young daughters again. He was killed in action in October 1915 and his body was never recovered. You can read more of his moving story and letters in my book Letters from the Trenches.