Saturday, 24 May 2014

A soldier's poignant thoughts of his children at home

A token of love, sent from the Front by a father missing his children
It's another rainy bank holiday weekend here in South West England and how my spirits sank when I pulled the curtains this morning and saw rain falling from grey skies with puddles coalescing in the garden.

How much worse it must have been, though, for Hannah Luxton in 1915 who, for the first time, was facing the Whitsun break alone with her two young girls at home in South Wales. Her husband Philip had just left for the Front and his poignant letters from France reveal that he was missing them just as much as they were missing him. In the trenches he imagines them preparing for the traditional Whitsun parade, with new dresses that had been bought specially for the occasion:

16 May, 1915

Just a few lines to let you know I am alright and I hope you and the children will enjoy yourself on Whitsun for I am sure I will be thinking of them for I wish I was able to be with them. I think this will be the first Whitsun for me to be from them and I hope it will be the last. Dear Wife, I am afraid I won't be able to write quite so often as we are moving about very often but I will write as often as I can. I hope it will not stop you writing for I will be able to receive your letters alright.

Whitsun May 23, 1915

Just a few lines in answer to your letters and fags and I am glad to hear you and the children is quite well...You can tell the children I will send them a French coin as soon as I gets some but I won't be able to send them any Belgium coins for we only get French coins here. Dear wife we had a fearful night here last night I never seen thunder and lightning in my life like I seen then and it lasted for about one hour. Dear wife while I am writing this letter I am thinking of the children dressing, for it is now eleven o'clock for I expect they will want to put their new dresses on. Don't forget to have your photos taken for I should like one very much.

25 May, 1915

Hoping you and the children had a good time yesterday for just at the time the schools was parading I was thinking of the children and wishing I was there to see them and I hope they had a fine day for it is very hot out here now by day.

  • My thanks to Anne Holland for the letters and Lorraine Judge for the postcard. You can read more of Philip Luxton's letters in my book Letters from the Trenches which is out in November.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The touching 'joie de vivre' of a doomed young soldier

Fred Wood: a teenager when he died
Some of the most moving letters from the First World War were written by soldiers who were still little more than the boys when they joined up. Volunteers had to be18 to enlist and 19 to serve abroad, but it's well-known that many recruiting officers turned a blind eye, perhaps suggesting that young lads who had told the truth about their age 'take a turn around the block' and 'return a couple of years older'. Which they usually did.

Fred Wood of Bristol enlisted when he was 17 and served with the Somerset Light Infantry in France. He was full of life, loved football, and was never happier than when in the company of friends. This youthful 'joie de vivre' comes across in letters he wrote to his older brother Ted, who was also serving on the Western Front, and the pair loved nothing more than to chat about mutual friends and the comings-and-goings of relatives.

This letter was written in March 1916:
Dear Ted, I received your card and I am please to see you are in the pink, the same as myself. How is Jim going on as Joe Avory keeps asking how he is. I have not heard from Cardiff [where his aunt and uncle lived] since I came back from leave, but I must excuse Aunt, as she got enough to do as it is. Hope Fatty will get right down the line. How did it happen, while he was playing footer?
Mother and all at home are quite well. Ask Jack when you see him if Auntie is home yet as Uncle said she would be home for Easter. Well Dear Ted, you must excuse this short scribble for the present. Hoping you and all your mates are in the pink. I remain your loving brother. Fred.

The 'Auntie' to whom Fred referred had sent him a touching card for Christmas 1915. On the front was a popular music hall scene and on the back was a message, pictured left, that showed how fond she was of the young nephew she had loved since he was a little boy: 'To Freddie, with all Aunties love and best wishes for a happy Christmas, Auntie Pollie.'

By the following Christmas Fred was dead, killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. His body was never found.

You can read the Wood brothers' story in full in my book 'Letters from the Trenches' which is out in November.