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Forces War Records Blog


Blogger: GemSen

Happy Valentine’s Day!

OK, so the media, restaurant owners and retailers all go crazy this time of year promoting Valentines Day — chocolates, flowers, and food abound. But have they just made it all up for commercial advantage?

If you look back through history, it would appear that the day’s origins has an element of slush to it — but not the sort of slush you were expecting…It involves beheading! 

There are lots of legends surrounding the origins of the day and it is impossible to know the exact truth, but many scholars believe that the day was established around the year 278 A.D when a holy priest called Valentine was executed in Rome, under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, aka Claudius the Cruel.

The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time gaining soldiers to join his military leagues because he believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

He then banned all marriages and engagements in Rome to dissolve the problem. The injustice didn’t go unrecognised by Valentine who went against Claudius and he continued to marry young lovers in secret.

Valentine’s actions soon came to light and he was arrested and ordered by Claudius to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off! This was carried out on February 14th.

One legend dictates that while in jail Valentine left a goodbye note to the jailer’s daughter who he was friendly with and signed it ‘from your Valentine’. 

Valentine was named a Saint after his death and St Valentine’s Day, February 14th, gradually evolved over the centuries to become a date synonymous with exchanging love messages and gifts.

Through wartime it was love letters and messages that kept soldiers going through the difficult times — contact with home was very important for morale.

Today, The Northern Echo reported that Durham County Records Office has revealed a hand made Valentine’s Day card, sent home to England by a World War Two soldier.

Sent by Lieutenant-Colonel George Reay of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) home to his beloved Lily near Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

The illustrated card shows an African backdrop and a bird carrying a message home in its beak as it flies upwards towards a heart pierced with a Cupid’s arrow.

It reads: “Valentine, My Valentine, For I am thine and thou art mine”.

The message was sent by airgraph service, a method of getting messages from servicemen home during the Second World War using microfilm. His Valentine’s Day card is one of a number of self-penned cartoon-style messages he sent home, which still survive, including a Christmas message and a greeting from Italy.

The love story had a happy ending, as Lt Col Reay, originally from West Hartlepool, survived the conflict and returned home to North Yorkshire, where he lived out his days.

Lt Col Reay enlisted in the Durham Royal Garrison Artillery on August 10, 1914, just weeks into the First World War, and was commissioned into the DLI in November 1915.

Transferred to the reserves in 1921, he was recalled in June 1940 and served overseas from 1943 to 1946.

Lieutenant-Colonel George Reay saw action at the December 1914 bombardment of Hartlepool and was awarded a French Croix de Guerre medal for heroism in the First World War and served in Algeria and Italy during the Second World War. He died on July 29, 1954, and his medals are kept in the DLI Museum, in Durham.

Source: & The Northern Echo

Do you have any letters, diaries, photos or medals that belonged to your military ancestor?

Next week on the 20th February the doors will open for this year’s biggest family history event, ‘Who Do You Think You Are Live’ and Forces War Records will be exhibiting there. 

Bring your ancestor’s old photos, military memorabilia and medals to the stand at 'Who Do You Think You Are Live' and our team will endeavour to tell you more about them, which could answer some pressing questions or even help send you off in a new direction in your family research.

Forces War Records offer the services of an experienced researcher who could do a lot of the hard work for you — if you've hit a brick wall with your research, or haven't got the patience — this could be an option to consider. For other people the challenge and the journey is exactly what makes genealogy fun, because you never really know where your family research is going to take you.

The ‘Who Do You Think You Are Live’ event will be held from Thursday 20th – Saturday 22 February, at the Olympia Centre in West Kensington, London. For more information visit: ‘Who Do You Think You Are Live’.

Log on to Forces War Records and find out more  - delve into our ‘historic documents’ library and read some of the interesting War diaries that we get sent – there’s nothing quite like reading a personal account of war, as history unfolds itself through the eyes of somebody who was actually there. 
If you have a war diary in your family then please send your contact details and a few lines about your ancestor and their diary to
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