WWI – Letters Home

Letters home: Over the top


Company Sergeant-Major James Milne wrote this poignant letter to his wife moments before he was ordered over the top.

It was to be delivered in the event of his death – but luckily James Milne survived and was later reunited with his family.

July 20, 1918

My own beloved wife

I do not know how to start this letter. The circumstances are different from any under which I ever wrote before. I am not to post it but will leave it in my pocket, if anything happens to me someone will perhaps post it. We are going over the top this afternoon and only God in Heaven knows who will come out of it alive.

I am in his hands and whatever happens I will look to him in this world and the world to come. If I am called my regret is that I leave you and my bairns. I go to him with your dear face the last vision on earth I shall see and your name upon my lips, you the best of women. You will look after by Darling Bairns for me and tell them how their daddy died.

Oh! How I love you all and as I sit here waiting I wonder what you are doing at home. I must not do that. It is hard enough sitting waiting. We may move at any minute. When this reaches you for me there will be no more war, only eternal peace and waiting for you.

It is a legacy of struggle for you but God will look after you and we shall meet again when there will be no more parting. I am to write no more sweetheart… Kiss the Bairns for me once more. I dare not think of them my Darlings.

Goodbye, you best of women and best of wives, my beloved sweetheart. May God in his mercy look over you and bless you all… May he in that same mercy preserve me today. Eternal love from
Yours for evermore
Jim xxxxxxxx





Letters home: Forever sweethearts


Private William Martin and Emily Chitticks were engaged to be married when he was killed in action on 27 March 1917.

While he was fighting in France with the Battalion Devonshire Regiment, the couple wrote to each other as often as possible.

Emily was devastated by her fiance’s death and never married. After she died in 1974 a note among her papers was found requesting that William’s letters be buried with her.

France, 24 March, 1917

My dearest Emily
Just a few lines dear to tell you I am still in the land of the living and keeping well, trusting you are the same dear, I have just received your letter dear and was very pleased to get it. It came rather more punctual this time for it only took five days. We are not in the same place dear, in fact we don’t stay in the same place very long… we are having very nice weather at present dear and I hope it continues… Fondest love and kisses from your
loving Sweetheart

Three days after this letter William Martin was killed in action. Emily Chitticks continued to write, ignorant of his death, but oddly she changed to writing in red pen the day after William died. Five of her letters were returned marked “killed in action”.


Mr Dearest Will
I was so delighted to get your letter this morning and know you are quite alright. I am pleased to say I am alright myself and hope dear this will find you the same. I was so pleased to hear darling that you had such a nice enjoyable evening, It was quite a treat I am sure. I don’t suppose you do get much amusement.

I am glad you are getting my letters dear, I am not waiting until I get your letters dear now before I write because it would make it so long for you to wait for a letter, and I guess you are pleased to get as many as possible.

I can understand darling your not being able to write as frequently. I shall get used to waiting for your letters soon I guess, but at first it seems so strange after being used to having them so regularly.

Well darling I don’t know any more to say now and I am feeling sleepy. Oh I wish you were here darling, but its no good wishing. Fondest love and lots of kisses from

your everloving little girl Emily

Although records reveal that William Martin was buried, his grave was never found. He is commemorated on the Fauborg d’Amiens memorial at Arras.


Letters home: Becoming a man


EJ ‘Ted’ Poole was the younger brother of a soldier who was killed at the third battle of Ypres in 1917.

The young Ted was conscripted in May 1918 and trained at Aldershot, from where the letter below was posted. It is clear he was replying to the concerned enquiries of his father, who, having already lost one son, wanted Ted to become a good soldier in the hope that it would improve his chances of survival.

Ted, who was sent to France in August 1918, wrote that he sure that the training would “either make a man of me or kill me”. Scarcely two months later, on 13 October, he was killed in action. He was 18.

28th May, 1918,

Dear Father,

Just a few lines in answer to your letter which I received today.

Yes I have got used to the puttees, as they have shaped to my legs by now. And I am getting used to my other things now, as I have been dished out with a rifle and bayonet, and now when I go on parade I have got to wear my belt, bayonet and cartridge pouch and also take the rifle.

They have been teaching us bayonet fighting today and I can tell you it makes your arms ache, when you make a point that is, when you lunge out at imaginary enemy, with the rifle at arms length. I think with this hard training they will either make a man of me or kill me. You ought to see me in my Shrapnel Helmet and Gas Mask, it would make you laugh, especially as the helmet wobbles from side to side, every time I walk.

Yes I got my food alright and you can have supper if you like to go for it, and you can bet I always go for supper. I am taking your advice and eating all I can.

Yes I did remember Dolly’s birthday and I have sent her a little badge of my Regiment which she asked for and which I expect you have received by now. You will have to tell Miss Farmer that I think she will have to wait another two months before she sees me on leave.

I will see the officer about the allowance in a day or so, as I have heard today that two or three boys mothers are receiving an allowance, but I don’t know how much.

Well, I think I will have to close now. As I haven’t anything more to say just at present. Hoping you are quite well.

From your loving son,

PS. Love to Dolly and Frank

After the war Ted Poole’s family erected a headstone which bore the inscription, “Out of the stress of the doing, into the peace of the done”. He is buried at Naves Communal Extension Cemetery, near Cambrai in France.

EJ Poole’s letters are held in the documents library at the Imperial War Museum. Extracts are also published in Malcolm Brown’s book 1918 Year of Victory.


Letters home: ‘Pray for me’


Lance-Corporal Frank Earley was a young journalist from Derby who regularly wrote to his family from the front.

His letters were normally full of enthusiasm and excitement. In July 1918 he wrote, “As you see, I am still alive and well, and as usual enjoying life to the full.”

It is only in his very last letter, on 1 September 1918, that he revealed his more reflective side.

The next day Frank Earley suffered a serious wound to his chest and died some hours later. He was 19.

Sunday afternoon, 1 Sep, 1918.

My dear Father,
It is a strange feeling to me but a very real one, that every letter now that I write home to you or to the little sisters may be the last that I shall write or you read. I do not want you to think that I am depressed; indeed on the contrary, I am very cheerful. But out here, in odd moments the realisation comes to me of how close death is to us. A week ago I was talking with a man, a catholic, from
Preston, who had been out here for nearly four years, untouched. He was looking forward with certainty to going on leave soon. And now he is dead – killed in a moment during our last advance. Well it was God’s will.

I say this to you because I hope that you will realise, as I do, the possibility of the like happening to myself. I feel very glad myself that I can look the fact in the face without fear or misgiving. Much as I hope to live thro’ it all for your sakes and my little sisters! I am quite prepared to give my life as so many have done before me. All I can do is put myself in God’s hands for him to decide, and you and the little ones pray for me to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady.

I hope that you will not move out of the old house yet. Write and let me know when anything happens. I see that you went to Preston a few days ago. It seems years and years since I tried to get drowned in the canal.

Well I have not much time left and I must end.
With my dear love. Pray for me.
Your son

Frank Earley is buried at Bac-de-Sud Military Cemetery, Bailleulval, nr Arras.

His letters are held by the documents library at the Imperial War Museum. Extracts appear in 1918 Year of Victory by Malcolm Brown






Letters home: ‘The real state of affairs’


Tired of fighting at the front Laurie Rowlands wrote a frank letter to his sweetheart Alice, in which he revealed his fears and the low morale of his comrades.

DL Rowlands, who served with the 15th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, also described his part in the battle of Brookseinde, at the third battle of Ypres.



Sweetheart Mine,

Now barring accidents you will get to know all about it. I know you will have a big surprise when you get this letter – I hope it lands without mishap. If anybody in authority was to see it -!

Of course you have guessed by now where I had my first experience of the line. Yes, it was on the Ypres salient… Oh it was a lovely ‘baptism of fire’ that night. We had to dig ourselves in and early in the morning Fritz started straffing.

Oh Lord, if ever a fellow was afraid, absolutely frightened to death, it was this child. Then one of my Section took shell shock when a big ‘un dropped a couple of yards off the parapet and then the instinct of the leader, or one whose place it is to lead, came to the top and I became as cool and steady as a rock. I had twelve men when we went in, I came out with three. Oh it was ghastly.

Perhaps you would like to know something of the spirit of the men out here now. Well the truth is (and as I said before I’d be shot if anyone of importance collared this missive) every man Jack is fed up almost past bearing, and not a single one has an ounce of what we call patriotism left in him. No-one cares a rap whether Germany has Alsace, Belgium or France too for that matter. All that every man desires now is to get done with it and go home. Now that’s the honest truth, and any man who has been out within the last few months will tell you the same.

In fact, and this is no exaggeration, the greatest hope of a great majority of the men is that rioting and revolt at home will force the government to pack in on any terms. Now you’ve got the real state of affairs ‘right from the horse’s mouth’ as it were.

I may add that I too have lost pretty nearly all the patriotism that I had left, its just the thought of you all over there, you who love and trust me to do my share of the job that is necessary for your safety and freedom. It’s just that that keeps me going and enables me to ‘stick it’. As for religion, God forgive us all, it hasn’t a place in one out of a million of the thoughts that hourly occupy men’s minds…

God bless you darling and all those I love and who love me, for without their love and trust I would faint and fail. But don’t worry dear heart o’ mine, for I shall carry on to the end be it bitter or sweet, with my loved ones ever my first thought and care, my guide inspirations and spur.

Au revoir my own sweetheart and God will keep you safe till the storm’s over, with all my heart’s deepest love. Your own loving


P.S. There are only I believe about 40 in this company due to leave before me now, so I may not, with any sort of luck, be more than six or eight weeks after this epistle.

D L Rowland’s letter is held in the documents library of the Imperial war Museum



  1. bon
    March 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Love was so different and so much stronger back then. These letters are really sad

  2. Frank
    March 16, 2011 at 1:57 am

    These were real people. People long ago. These letters are absolutely beautiful and sad at the same time. Love is so real in these letters.

  3. Richard
    April 8, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    One of the most beautiful things I have read in awhile. These were only human beings facing dismemberment or death on a daily basis, only to find some consolidation through some simple coorispondance with a loved one.

    Never forget about people that are forced into something they don’t really want to be in, or a place they don’t want to be. Even if they are in prison. You do not understand how important these pieces of paper are. It shows you care enough to spend the time and hand write a letter and send it.

    Technology has us so jaded that we don’t understand that ink is more powerful then LCD.

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