Thursday, 12 June 2014

Soldiers never forgot that 'home is where the heart is'

Private Tom Fake
(Photos:Jackie Carpener)
Letters written by Tommies from the Front reveal just how important their lives at home still were despite everything that was going on around them. Duties on the battlefield obviously came first, dictated as they were by military orders that couldn't be ignored and an enemy that always always had to be watched. But when men settled down quietly with their pencils and paper, family life came alive again and domestic details took precedence over mud, exhaustion, barbed wire and the incessant roar of guns.

One man for whom home was tremendously important was Private Tom Fake, who served in France with the Rifle Brigade. When he wrote to his wife Charlotte in Bristol, it was almost as if she were standing next to him, as shown in these snippets from letters he wrote during June 1917. Conversation often centred on their young son, Tommy, and also the garden Tom had loved so much during peace time:

4th June

Charlotte and Tommy Fake
'Thank Tommy for his nice letter and tell him my next letter will be to him. I am also glad he has had a bible as a prize from his Sunday school and I hope he will take care of it...How are those rose trees this year, did Bert Freke [a family friend] prune them for me? And how about my gladiolas are they alright, or are they gone the same way as the begonias. I should like to hear a bit about the garden when you answer this, did you pot out the echeverias?'

Tom confides in his wife about problems that he may have felt he had to keep quiet about around the other men: 'I am going on fairly well, but I still get the rheumatics, today again it nearly crippled me on the march,' he wrote on 14 June. Four days later things still hadn't improved: 'I have still got the rheumatics, the marching pulls me all to pieces, but still I can only do my best.'

Charlotte had problems of her own - namely bad teeth - and was awaiting an operation (fairly common at the time) to remove them: 'I shall be glad to hear when you have had all your teeth out and I do hope you will feel better after it,' wrote her husband comfortingly. By the end of June she had had them extracted, and Tom must have wished he could have been with her: 'I am sorry the operation you have been going under has made you so weak and hope that you will soon get strong again, well I suppose it will be finished by the time you get this, I suppose it will be some time before you get new teeth.'

Private Fake's letters also reflect how difficult life was becoming for those at home, with the war causing shortages in food and fuel: 'So they have stopped runing the buses have they? I suppose that is on account of using petrol,' he wrote on 22 June.

A funeral procession for pupils killed in the
bombing raid on London in June 1917
Fortunately for the Fakes, their home in Bristol was far enough west not to suffer enemy air attacks. However, when the Germans launched their first major heavy bombing raid over London on 13 June 1917, killing 162 people and injuring 432, Tom was full of sadness for his friends who had lost loved ones:

13 June

'They say the 13th is an unlucky number, whether that be true or not it was unlucky for some poor devils that suffered from the air raid. It has affected my two mates. One has had the front of his house wrecked and a bird killed, but no one inside was injured. The other one's sister had a child about six years old killed at school and one injured.' can read more of Tom Fake's letters in my book 'Letters from the Trenches', which is out in November, and also in 'Bristol in the Great War' which is out this August. This will my first book and I'll be telling you more about it as publication approaches. In the meantime here's a sneak preview of the cover - click here for more details or to pre-order a copy.

Thankyou to Jackie Carpenter for allowing me to use the material relating to her great-uncle Tom Fake.