A First World War Correspondence

This blog will record, in real time exactly 100 years later, the correspondence between Miss Emma Ash and Mr William Metcalfe during the First World War. From bundles of letters found under floorboards long after their deaths, we are able to witness the development of the later stages of the War through the eyes of a serviceman and his sweetheart, played out alongside a growing romance.

With no consideration of literary prowess, no thought that this correspondence would be seen by others (except perhaps the military censor), an unvarnished portrait of a different age and world appears.

The letters run from May 1917 to mid-1919, and will appear here in the order they were written, a century later.

22nd March 1918

Dear Emmie

I am very sorry to have put you out so, but my leave was stopped this morning. I was quite ready, had had an early breakfast and was feeling as if I was at home when I found that I was unlucky as my pass had not been put in. You can imagine my disappointment. As I am writing this the boys are marching off to the station. I hope you will be able to cancel the week you have got off because next week is holiday week and you will have one or two days given you then. I have a good piece of news and that is, I don’t think that this is my last leave, most likely it is but I am going to try to get another one to bring my cornet home because I will leave it behind. I would write more now only I don’t feel up to it. I will now conclude hoping that I am not disappointed next week.

With most affect. Love

From Your

Will xxxx


20th March 1918

Bandsman W Metcalfe 46534, Band Room, Russel House, Jetty St, 52. Graduated Batt, Royal Sussex Regt, Cromer, Norfolk
Dear Emmie

Yours to hand of the 19th. I half expected such an answer, before I sent my letter to you and now I have got it I suppose I must put up with it. If you would rather save your week until the summer by all means do so I would not like to know that I was spoiling your holiday in any way. I will arrive in London about 12 noon on Friday. I think it is Liverpool St where my train gets it. Well I must get on or I will have somebody running me for neglect of duty.

Love From Will x


17th March 1918

Dear Emmie

Although I did not write to you for two days I fully expected a nice long letter from you yesterday but perhaps you didn’t  have time to write much, as you waited until the last post for one from me. Your letter was very abrupt and didn’t please me as they usually do. Last night I dreamed all about pillar-boxes and letters that wouldn’t go in, because we were talking about a certain pillar-box where the letters get stuck at the top for someone else to pull out. (Dinner time)

I have just received your letter of yesterday so it has not been long coming. What have you been imagining? I don’t think there is much to imagine you seem to write with a suspicious air. I am certain that we are having leave 6 days starting next Friday. I would very much like you to get time off so as we can make the best of our time. I am playing on the pier this afternoon and evening so I will have pounds to draw.

One of our boys has managed to get into a band in France; that is just what your humble WM is going to have a smack at. I thank you for getting that swastika for me, I will always wear it so as to remind me of you. You would be surprised at the way I am writing this; lounging on the floor in a properly eastern fashion. I am sorry to hear that here will be more serious times with food shortage I suppose I will have to bring about a dozen food tickets with me. (I will now have to leave this again to play on the pier.)

Again I write, this time to finish this little “billit”. This afternoon the orchestra went very well but there were not so many people on the pier; three hundred less this week but that was because all our boys were on parade. It is a shame making them parade on a Sunday afternoon; they had to do some entraining drill for when we move in about a months time. I think we are going under canvas or in huts for the summer, I hope it is the latter. I went to the pictures last night; here they have two houses like a theatre and two pictures completed the programme, I hope to see some better ones when I am home. I don’t mind if Friby does make a little excitement when I am home as long as he doesn’t kill anybody. By going down tubes one loses the excitement. Yesterday C.G. and I explored a wreck which is stranded on the beach and we had a fine time climbing the rigging. We had to climb about 60’ to get onto the deck and when I got onto the bridge I imagined i was in the navy. I let C.G. down the hold by a hand crane and when he let me down he stopped me in mid air for about five minutes. You know I want you wear something pretty on this auspicious occasion it will help to make me love you all the more. Well my dear I must conclude now as it will be time for the concert soon. It seems funny concerts on Sunday but there is nothing more to do here and it is the only time Soldiers get for a little recreation.

Best Love


Your affect. boy


P.S. Please excuse mistakes and words if they are not there.


16th March 1918

Dear Emmie

I am glad to hear you received the Goss unbroken. You won’t be long will you? what. I passed through Gunton Station this afternoon. It is very funny how these things occur but I don’t believe I will be able to go to Gunton because it is “out of bounds”. I would have been surprised to see you at N.Walsham, would I have stopped blowing? Just think you. I do not know what week my leave will be I think some are going next Friday, but I will let you know as soon as possible. I am sorry you don’t like fancy names but I will try to keep my place in future. So sorry to hear you had a raid the other night I think they are more bother than what they are worth to keep on dropping those bomb-bombs. I am now back from my “weeks holiday” and have some stiff times in sight. I don’t fancy drills tomorrow and I have got used to sleeping in a proper bed but the change comes tonight.

Well my dear I really don’t know what to write about and I have a lot of work to do in getting ready for parade tomorrow so the best thing for me to do now is “pack”. I am longing to see you but I am sorry it is to be the last time before going across. The worst part is saying good by. It must not be good by “but au revoir”.

With Fondest Love

From Yours Ever

Will. xxxxxx

PS. Thank you for the Birthday Card. Sweet 19 and never been (?) It is a sweet little verse which I know is true.


14th March 1918

Dear Emmie

I am sorry to have kept you so long without a letter but I have really had no time. Last night I didn’t get off parade until 6 o’cl and then we played at a military hospital so you see I have been very busy. We have had a funny day today. Gas! Gas! Gas! We drew overseas gas respiraters yesterday and have been through both tear and poisonous gas today. We were payed this evening and the boys who are on their final leave this week have drawn £3, quite a large sum. – Tea time –

We have had macaroni-cheese and potatoes for tea, I have never had it before and I don’t think I like it as well as a good macaroni milk pudding. We had an air-raid warning the other night but nothing exciting happened although we could hear distant gunfire. Sometimes your letters take two to three days to reach me; I cannot understand it. There is only one post that goes to London from here each day.

I had my twentieth birthday last Sunday and Mum’s was on Wednesday. I am looking forward to seeing you next Friday and I am sorry my leave does not cover Easter. I am waiting for you to take me to that picture palace as I haven’t been to one for quite a long time now. I wrote home for some reading matter chiefly news and I had in return three thick books of Daily Sketches but the funny part about them is that they are three years old 1915 editions. Never mind they will do to start a fire with. I don’t want you to say anything to anybody at home about it or they will think me dissatisfied. It will be the last leave I will have before going over the “pond” so we must make the best of it, As long as I know you are alright at home I can bear anything here. It will be hard saying “au revoir” when my time is up, but we must think of all the other people who have to go through the same ordeal. Well I don’t want to make you feel miserable so I will change the subject. I am playing at Officers’ Mess tonight at which we get a drink and supper now, tomorrow evening is a dance and Sunday we are on the pier. When us C Company boys [go] it will make a great strain upon the band and I don’t think they will be able to have an orchestra.

Well I must close now

With most affect. Love

From Yours Ever



12th March 1918

52 Batt. R.Suss Reg’t No.1 C Coy. Cromer
Dear Emmie

Thanks for paper and letter received this evening; it has taken two days to come. I have had a very hard day today and do not feel like writing a letter so will answer yours tomorrow. Hope you are quite well,

Best Love From

Will x


7th March 1918

North Walsham
Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand of the 5th inst it takes two days for a letter to reach me from you now because of the changing at Cromer. We have had one bit of hard luck here, one of the boys has been taken to hospital with stomach trouble. About six months ago he was poisoned with rabit and he has never been right since. Is the organ at the Mission playable at all because I want a tune when I come home. I would like you to take me to the pictures no doubt it is a nice place. Is W.S. quite alright now or does he still feel the effects of the gass. If I was to get measles I might get a few days leave but I have got to get ‘em first. Where do they sell it? I am sorry that you lost the brooch but these things will happen and its no use crying over “spilt milk”, as long as you don’t lose yourself I don’t mind. I have seen one or two damsels in my travels, (hm sounds good) there was one in this house when we came here but she has been found out and is in a safe place now. No wonder murders are commited. (I hope you like mysterys). I sent you the “goss” this morning let me know if it was broken won’t you. I couldn’t register it because I hadn’t any wax. I am not blowing my teeth out on the contrary, I have four more just cutting. There has been a good exhibition of flying today and of dropping bombs and also artillery action. One airman stood right out on the front of his machine and waved his hand, it is a wonder some of them did not have an accident through their great daring. The figure reached now is £17,000 and I think it is excellent for such a small place. Well my dear I will have to “pack” now as the light is fading. It is just the kind of light I like when you are with me but you like such a bright glow don’t you. I am playing the piano in the orchestra tonight at 7.ocl. so au revoir my sweet damsel.

Fondest Love

From Will .xxxxxxxxxx

PS. I feel all over alike, you know; ever been like it?


6th March 1918

North Walsham
Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand; thanks for the Mag: and paper. I feel sure I wrote you more than once last week, of course you have received one from me by now; written Monday. I am glad to hear Will Sharp is home, will you ask him to write to me so that I may know his address. I heard from F Champ today and he is still the same as usual. I am not surprised to hear of H. Chapman’s promotion for I fully expected him to get on well. Once he said he would like to take me as his servant only I wasn’t old enough then. I wish I was coming with you to Emanuel can you remember last time, it doesn’t seem so long ago and yet it seems ages. (Compre). On Friday we were told to do a “stunt” and that it would take a week but of course it sounded too good to be true. As usual there was a lot of “red tape” as to whether we should go or not as we were supposed to be firing a refresher course Monday and Tuesday. Time kept on rolling and at length we found ourselves getting out of the train at N.Walsham (Monday afternoon) to act as a source of attraction for War Bonds this Boom Week. The figure aimed at was £10,000 for the purpose of building four aeroplanes, and on the second day a sum of £13,000 is reached much to everybodys satisfaction and with a new objective £20,000. I think it is very good for a small town with the population of about 6,000. Monday evening there was a free concert (which was no good apart from the orchestra) at which there were two 15/6d vouchers given away. I picked up No73 and one of the winners was 78 but a miss is as good as a mile. By the way, have you heard that a “waac” on the knee is better than a smack on the face. But still that is nothing to do with horse racing so I will proceed.

Yesterday there was a Grand Military Procession in which were Boy Scouts, the Fire Brigade, Grammar School boys, the Voluntiers and also some real soldiers. – Break for Tea –

This afternoon there has been a foot ball match in aid of the same cause at which we played. On the whole we are having an easy time here and the food is better than we generally get. I told you that we were in private billits didn’t I! and they are “tres bon” with bed-steads too. We generally get up about a quarter to eight in the morn. and we have hot cocoa before we go to bed. Oh! we are enjoying ourselves.

I don’t know whether to go to the sergeants’ mess or to church this evening. I had a look round the church this morning, it was built in the 1300ds and its tower has fallen down and the verger has promised to show me the organ. I am becoming quite an explorer of Churches. I hear that we are getting our final leave very soon and I will let you know as soon as poss: so as you can get some time off. I don’t like the final business about it though. I won’t know how to handle you when I come home I am getting quite out of practice. Well my dear I will now conclude with heaps of Love

From Your Most Affectionate

Will xxxxxx