So, it’s Valentine’s Day, but, not everyone can spend the day with his or her significant other, as was the case during the First World War. The sentiments of love, however, sometimes helped to warm the hearts of the soldiers enduring the danger, cold and wet of the trenches...
If you’ve ever read love letters sent home from the frontline you’ll learn that they can be incredibly moving. They often highlight that the simple things in life are what really matter — family. Home is where the heart is after all.
Many soldiers got through the horrendous conditions, dodging bullets, shells and poisonous gas by holding onto the thought of their loved ones back home.
Sergeant Major Arthur Harrington swapped home for a life on the frontline in late 1914 — he left behind a pregnant wife Florence and young daughter Margaret.
A series of his letters, left untouched for nearly a century have been highlighted in a book called ‘Wives and Sweethearts: Love Letters Sent During Wartime’, which delves into how love blossomed during World War One.
In one letter, from March 1915, Sgt Maj Harrington wrote:
“You and my darling child are constantly in my thoughts. It is indeed a comfort to me always that your life during the last three years, since we were happily united at the altar, has been a happy one.”
“God many happy days together are still in store for us. I crave for you so often but must be like so many other men out here in being patient.”
Rather heart-breakingly, just one month later, and two weeks after celebrating the birth of his second child Sgt Maj Harrington was killed by an exploding shell. The 46-year-old was buried at Ypres, in the Menin Gate cemetery.
Another endearing story includes Gunner Sidney Edwards who arrived in France with the 20th Battery, the 1st/7th London Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery in March 1915. He wrote 150 letters to his fiancée, Emma May Goodall, who he called 'Kiddie'. His missives switch between being long, affectionate and humorous to brief notes when he was in the thick of battle.
During one violent clash during the summer of 1915, he wrote: "We have gone into action again. My word, we shan’t be sorry to get out again, for it’s too warm for my liking. I don’t mean the weather, I mean shells."
Gnr Edwards, despite his feelings for Kitty, initially believed it ‘selfish’ for serving soldiers to marry their sweethearts in case they were killed.
However, by May 1917, things had changed and in an emotional letter, ahead of his leave he wrote: "We shall have a glorious time when I do come home, in fact, I think we ought to be married, even if we had to rush off to a registry office, and then dash off the rest of my leave for a honeymoon, that would be most enjoyable wouldn’t it darling, just think of it."
Sadly, Gnr Edwards was killed a month later, in June 1917, aged 22.
Dr Alastair Massie, the co-author of the book and an academic at the National Army Museum, stated: "In wartime especially, all the usual emotions experienced by men and women in love are felt to a heightened degree.
"The sense of danger and the years of separation imposed by service abroad make the heartache of loss and the joy of reunion all the greater. With this book, readers get a rare glimpse into another era and the people who lived through it."
The book includes photographs, notes, postcards, and diaries from soldiers on the frontline which were drawn from the National Army Museum archives.
Do you know enough about your ancestors who fought in the First or Second World War?
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. Discover interesting facts about your ancestors, become more knowledgeable about history, and reveal some of the fantastic characters involved in war…What are you waiting for?