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.

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