A touching love letter, sent to Forces War Records by the relatives of a soldier who died during the Arras Offensive, appeared in the Daily Express and the Mail Online today! Lance Corporal Frederick Swannell wrote to his wife Ellen, who he affectionately called ‘Nell’, just weeks before he was declared ‘missing, presumed killed’ at the Battle of Arleux, 28th April 1917.
Unbeknownst to her five children Mrs Ellen Swannell kept the letter close by in her handbag for over 60 years, where it was found by her daughters, Elizabeth and Charlotte, on her death in 1981 at the age of 98. They were so touched that, although they kept a photocopy, they made sure the original letter was placed in their mother’s coffin to be buried with her.
The letter reads in full:
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
The letter was donated to us by Frederick’s grandson, Roger Potts, and Jenny Fenton. Lance Corporal Frederick Swannell was just 35 when he died fighting for his country, and his body was never recovered. His name was added to Arras memorial, and he is just one of almost 35,000 soldiers from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the offensive and have no known grave.
Frederick had already seen action in France as well as Belgium; here is his battalion’s World War One service outline:
13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham)
27.12.1914 Formed by the Mayor and the Borough at West Ham and then moved to Brentwood.
01.07.1915 Taken over by the War Office and the then moved to Clipstone as part of the 100th Brigade of the 33rd Division and then moved to Perham Down, Salisbury Plain.
17.11.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne
22.12.1915 Transferred to the 6th Brigade of the 2nd Division and moved to Bethune and engaged in various actions on the Western front including;
The Battle of Delville Wood, The Battle of the Ancre, Operations on the Ancre.
The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Battle of Arleux, The Second Battle of the Scarpe, The Battle of Cambrai.
10.02.1918 Disbanded in France.
It is too easy to see the soldiers who died in the Great War as faceless minions working towards a common cause, but each had a name, a life, people they loved, and people who loved them and would either rejoice on their return or mourn their loss.
Each man also had a voice, and we’re lucky that so many were recorded, allowing us to hear their words today. Finding details of your ancestor's service can be revealing, but Forces War Records also understand that diaries and personal reports of war can provide precious insights that sometimes other records and genealogy sites just don’t provide. We are always adding to our ‘historic documents’ library, which contains a wealth of original documents, periodicals, manuals and newspapers. Take a look here – many are available to read for free – and email us at Diaries@forces-war-records.co.uk if one of your relatives left papers that you’d like to donate.