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A little bit of a different post today to commemorate the end of World War One. I have in my possession a collection of letters sent by my Grandma (Alice) to my Grandad (Fred) in 1919 whilst he was in the Army.
Although this was the year following the end of the war, the letters give some fascinating insights into that period in history, including an account of the first Armistice Day.
I have always loved reading the letters since I first discovered them in a cupboard not long after my Grandad had died. It is very touching that he kept them all of those years, in a Jacob’s biscuit tin. (They still live in that tin to this day).
I often wondered about the other side of the conversation but sadly I only have one half of it.
Still, I love them and I wanted to share some of the highlights of those letters.
The first thing that strikes me about the letters is the lovely handwriting. I wish mine looked like that! At almost one hundred years old some of them are very faded. This was another reason for photographing and preserving them for this post.
The next thing that strikes me is how lucky my Grandad was to be born when he was. If he had joined the army a year earlier this would have probably sent him to the front line in the most terrible of wars….
Here they are looking very young! I can really see me in this photo of Alice, can you see any resemblance?! (I think I have her eyes).
The Letters (And The Biscuit Tin!)
Here are the letters and the tin. It’s hard to imagine that they were written almost one hundred years ago! They have a smell like old books! I keep the tin inside a fireproof box and I’m hoping they will last a bit longer yet.
I have picked out some of my favourites along with some of the most poignant on this day of remembrance.
This letter reads
Mother and I went about a gramophone tonight and we left a deposit on one until we can draw the money out of the bank. We have to wait four or five days before we can have the money. The machine is £6.15.0 with 12 records. It is a very good machine (double motor). It is only second hand, but it ought to be good for that price, don’t you think so?
Alice mentions the gramophone in a subsequent letter, saying they have had it “for breakfast, lunch and dinner”!
It’s hard to believe that before the gramophone there was no recorded music! The machine was invented in the late 1880s and only hit the market in the 1890s so hadn’t been around for all that long when Alice purchased hers.
The Aftermath of The War
In the same letter is a very sad story. I decided that the full details were too graphic to share. To summarise, a man near where Alice lived had killed his wife and children and then attempted to take his own life. The bit that strikes me is her next paragraph
I believe he was discharged out of the army with shell shock, poor man couldn’t have been in his right mind.
It makes me so sad to think that there would have been no help for this man. This was way before the advent of the National Health Service. There wouldn’t have been any access to counselling or medication.
At the time of writing the letters, my Grandma was just eighteen years old and my Grandad was nineteen.
The letters read as though they were very much in love. It seems as though they had already made a commitment to be together always. This seems very young to me nowadays, but it was obviously meant to be!
She wrote “you are my first love and my last. If ever you were to grow tired of me, I do not think I should ever look at a boy again”. She also wrote, “nothing can make me really happy until you are with me for good” and “you see, you are all mine for always now”.
I love this bit too “do you know Fred when I think of meeting you it makes me feel all of a flutter”.
The First Armistice Day
I have read the letters many times over the thirty odd years since I first discovered them. It was only in 2014, on the anniversary of the outbreak of World War One, that I realised they contain a description of the very first Armistice Day in 1919.
As I’m sure you know, the guns ceased firing at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.
On the 12th November 1919, Alice wrote
Did you have to stop work yesterday for two minutes on account of the Armistice? All the traffic here stopped. Everything sounded so quiet. I believe the band played the dead march at the Town Hall.
The Birthday Party
There is one thing that comes across strongly in the letters. Despite all the huge changes that have happened since 1919, people are essentially the same now as they were back then. Alice describes a Birthday party, thrown for her Sister Dolly.
The guests did not leave until half past six in the morning so it was no wonder I was tired was it? I don’t think I ever danced so much in all my life.
She also tells Fred
Dolly got quite a lot of presents. The chap she is now keeping company with bought her a beautiful scarf. The price was on the bottom of the box, 29/6 (n.b. old money). I don’t suppose he knew the price was on it.
She also, like any young woman, appeared to love to go shopping and buy new things! Working in a shop, she wouldn’t have had anywhere near the amount of disposable income we have today. She talks animatedly about a pair of new shoes she bought (who doesn’t love shoes?!)
The Letter From Mother
Also in the biscuit tin is a letter to Fred from his Mother. She asks him “have you got your toothbrush”! Not much different from mothers today then?!
I hope you liked this little snippet of history. I have enjoyed getting the letters out again for Armistice Day. They will now go safely back in their biscuit tin and I hope that I will be able to read them for many years to come.
Do you have any little pieces of history hidden away in your home? I would love to hear about them.