Two-and-a-half years of war and still no end in sight... what a dreary, miserable life it must have been for those at home in November 1917. With winter setting in, and food and fuel shortages starting to bite, it would have taken an extraordinarily optimistic spirit not to be worn down by the gloomy state of affairs.
So as Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday approach, here's a letter from a soldier to his wife dated 26 November 1917 which, for me, sums up the grim life which women at home were now facing.
It was written by Private Tom Fake who was serving in France with the Rifle Brigade. A conscientious correspondent, the letters he wrote to his wife Charlotte and young son Tommy at home in Bristol feature throughout my book Letters from the Trenches and are full of encouragement for Charlotte who was obviously struggling without him. Tom does his best to cheer her up and keep her company by chatting about touchingly inconsequential matters: letters, parcels, the weather, when the war will end. There's no mention of the fighting.
|Tom Fake, wife Charlotte and son Tommy|
These carefully-written letters are not full of derring-do, nor do they contain poetic descriptions about war and the waste of human life. They are far more prosaic. However, they represent the sort of letters that most soldiers were writing home to their loved ones. And it's this ordinariness that makes them so poignant.
Happily, Tom survived the war and returned to Bristol in 1919, resuming work as a carpenter.
My dear Sweetheart,
Just to let you know that I have received your welcome letter No13 dated 21/11/17 which I was pleased to get, and to learn that you and Tommy was in good health as it leaves me. Yes my dear I wish too, that I was able to be home with you, and that this thing was finished, but it still seems a long way off. I know it must make you down, with me not having my leave yet, but I don't think it will be so very long now, any rate I hope not. You say you may be able to have me home with you by Xmas, well my dear there is no knowing I may be home by then even now.
I received the letter you sent me from Win [his sister-in-law], I think I told you so in my last letter. I am so glad that I sent you and Tommy those cards, I did not think at the time that they would be utilized for such a splendid purpose. Well cheer up my dear, all's well that ends well, and I hope it will end well for us, then we will make up for lost time. No, I don't require any parcel, you have plenty to do as it is, and after all it is a waste as so many of them get smashed up, the same as most of the others have that you have sent me, or either got lost.
I like the letter I am answering, I know my dear you have always done your best and I feel confident that you will always continue to do so, but I sincerely hope you will not be required to do what you say you will. The wind we have been having this last few days have abated, and so far the rain have kept off, but it is getting very cold. I have not been able to get a card for Alice [his sister] yet, but perhaps I shall be able to manage to get it when we go back [away from the front line]. This is all this time so close with my fondest love and kisses. Goodnight my dears, God bless you both.
Tom Fake's letter home, 26 November 1917