A tale of Love from the Western Front

You may have seen that Forces War Records has been asking our readers, fans and users for stories of your ancestors during the wars.

We have been overwhelmed with the response so far and I have over 160 submissions to read through!

This one however caught my eye and I thought I would share it with you.

One of the things I have loved most about reading Military History for my degree and History at GCSE and A-Level is the incredible personal accounts that come out of war zones, be it the First World War or the War in Afghanistan.

One can forget that many soldiers during WW1 were volunteers or were conscripted. They had no or little military tradition in the family and it was an experience anathema to anything they had been through before.

Fully kitted up with a rifle, uniform, pack and wearing a gas mask, it can be easy to forget that there is a human being under there. With a life, a family, wife, children, mother and father. Generals treated them like “drones” slaved to a cause, but the truth was so very different for the Lions lead by Lambs:


L/Cpl F Swannell
13th Essex Regiment
B E F France

My Dear Darling Nell

I am writing these lines  hoping to find you and all our dear little ones in the very best of health.  I am very sorry to know that you have not been getting much news from me but love I write to you all I can at present the conditions we are now in we do not get much chance of writing any letters. 

Well love my foot is progressing very slowly but lately I have been very bad in health for the conditions I have had to go through out here is gradually telling upon my constitution for I reckon I have stood it well up till now but I feel as I am getting beaten. 

Oh love how I wish that this terrible anxiety and suspense was over for I do long to be with you and our deal little ones who are continually in my mind it is as you state in your letter it is a shame we should be parted for such a long time and I have done over my bit as you know but it seems no matter how long or what you have been through out here they are never done with you. 

The men we have got with us now have only been out here two months and they have done nothing or been through anything yet but they are continually grousing and fed up with it.  They have been forced to join the army so you can guess what they are like. 

Well love let us put the troubles aside and hope for a peaceable time for us both and all for if I am lucky enough to get through it alright I hope to have a happy and loving life with you and our dear little ones for you know I love you and I always will and I know you do me for you have proved it with my little ones. 

Well love this is all at present with my very best love to you and my little ones. 

I am you ever loving husband Fred Swannell. 

Kisses for you love and my little ones.


Love you all

They say “a picture tells a thousand words” but not even pictures from the front I think compare to a first hand written account such as this. It is a truly poignant letter of love from a person surrounded by death, misery and decay.

Lance Corporal Swannell was sadly killed in action during the battles at Arras in 1917. Mrs Ellen Swannell, his wife, died in 1981 at the age of 98.  When her daughters Elizabeth and Charlotte were sorting out her effects following her death this letter from her husband, Frederick, was found tucked into her handbag.  She had kept it safe for over 60 years.  The daughters photocopied the letter before putting the original into their mother’s coffin to keep it safe for eternity. 

Our thanks to Jenny Fenton and Roger Potts for the submission.

Blogger: ThoBen

If you have the story of an ancestor to tell please send it to stories@forces-war-records.co.uk

Forces War Records is adding over 100,000 new records every month and updating thousands of old records as we go. Give our free search a go and see what you can find: 

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