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.

16th August 1917

Bandsman W. Metcalfe 46534, Aldershot
Dear Emmie

I wish my letters reached you as quickly as yours do me; because if I do not catch the 8.45. AM post you do not get it the same day. If you have not already suggested to Mabel or Will anything about coming down I might say that I would sooner have you all to myself. I will see them both when I get my 6 days leave, which I hope will not be long. I have not been to have my tooth out yet as I have really had no time. (The corporal is now having a very heated row with his best friend; it was my turn this morning and I only laughed and said “It will be somebody elses turn this afternoon” and it has come true.) I will not trouble you with our petty differences so I will go back to what I was saying. Last night there was a grand concert given, at which the General and the Brigade Major were present and also a lot of the officers’ wives. By the way I do not feel out of sorts in fact I am really a little better than I was a few weeks ago. I will try to catch the sun for once just to see what I look like. I do not want you to be disappointed in me so I will try to counteract your illusions. Hm? I am glad it was not a real said as I thought it was before I read the sentence. I do not remember a letter from Mabel; only a card but tell her I will answer it when I find it. About dealing with those claims.* (I have been to Officer’s Mess since * and now it is 9.20pm.) I have not time to say much but I would certainly take it on if I were you. I do not see why you should worry; even if you got the sack (I know you wouldn’t) you could easily get another job. Of course you will only take this on if the wages are above the average. Should you refuse I do not see what could happen, only things would go on the same. First of all I would refuse and then only with a little pressure from Mr Painter I would take a week to consider it. It is best to be diplomatic I have no more time now as “lights out” will be going so I will conclude

With Very Best Love Will xx

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14th August 1917

Bandsman W. Metcalfe 46534, (Band Hut) 100 T.R.Batt, Albuhera Barracks, Stanhope Lines, Aldershot
Dear Emmie

I received your letter this evening so I thought I would answer it before I turned in. It is now nine o’clock. What with the bad light and everybody dancing around you must excuse writing. etc. I hope you enjoy yourself at Brighton Sunday but I am looking forward to next Sunday week. I have not had my tooth out yet as both yesterday and tonight we have had practice. I liked the cake very much thank you and my tooth has not ached since I partook of it. We are not at the theatre yet but we are full up otherwise. I do not remember the “Oh much about the same I suppose” because I was really thinking I liked you better if there is any difference at all. I suppose it is because I do not see so much of you. We went out this morning and played about five marches and got back to barracks at 10 A M and we did nothing all day until this evening: the worst of it is that we are not allowed to go out in the day time. We had a very heavy storm this morning and all the boys got wet through. The boys are turning the lights out and doing gymnastics on the roof supports so I think it is about time I came to a close

From Your Ever Loving Will xx

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14th August 1917

16, Tiber St
Dear Will

In answer to yours. Work went down very funny yesterday, it seemed as though work & I had quarrelled, but of course we have got to be friends again or I shall starve. On Sunday I may be at Brighton I thought about going Sat. aft. And coming home Sund night, as Mother is going for the week. I have not lost all my brown yet, it seems to be more of a red hue though now, Gipsy tint, it is described. But this is all about “I” so will change le sujet. I was imagining you feeling not up to much after having your tooth out, but I hear you have not been, however I hope you will feel better than I did. How do you like the cake Will, have you had your teeth in that yet, you had better try it before going to the dentist in case, (enough said.) Are you at the theatre again playing then, if so, mind how you go on. I did not think you ‘felt less’ because you told me Sunday when I asked what you thought of me, “oh much about the same I suppose” it did not sound altogether tender, but I am satisfied if you did think the same, I know I expect a lot as you said before, but still, that is my, or one of my, many faults. Well I have no more to write this time, (Charles Hill is on leave I hear, looking quite fat & well). I will now conclude

With best Love, Emmie xx
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13th August 1917

Bandsman W. Metcalfe 46534, (Band Hut) 100 T.R.B., Albuhera Barracks, Stanhope Lines, Aldershot
Dearest Emmie

Thanks for letter so soon I received directly I came off parade this morning.

I saw you getting into the train from the bridge and you looked up but did not see me. I know you had some difficulty in getting in but I did not go till I knew you were safe.

I don’t suppose I will visit the dentist tonight as I have to go to orchestral practise at 6 o’cl.I am going as a cornet player but tonight I will be on the piano. There is no need for you to worry and think That I feel less for you because, (as you said) “I have known you long enough” to know your saucey pretty little ways. Well my Dear it is about 5.55. now so I will close.

With Best Love Will. Xx

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12th August 1917

16, Tiber St
Dearest

I got home quite safe, the carriage was very crowded though. I looked for you on the bridge but could not see you, did you go on the bridge? I am writing this as soon as I got in so that you should have it some time on Monday. I hope you feel alright after your visit to the Dentist, & dear Will, forget if you can, what I said to tease you, I am sorry, I could not keep thinking of it all the way home. I thought you knew me better, however I feel sure you could not have really believed it. Well I have to run out & post this before Midnight so cannot say anymore, Good night & God bless you, my one & only Love.

Emmie x

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9th August 1917

Bandsman W. Metcalfe 46534, (Band Hut) 100 T.R.B., Albuhera Barracks, Stanhope Lines, Aldershot
Dear Emmie

Thanks for P.C. and letter; you do not know how thankful I am for all you write to me. I am not sorry I did not join in that game while I know that you are true to me. I am not afraid of that chap cutting me out, but you must not let him “come it” too much. Does Mabel try to flirt much. How is it that this chap is not in the Army? does he say why. I am glad to hear that you went rowing but you must be careful in the sea; can’t you remember when you was half afraid to go on the Thames. I hope you don’t get your feet wet when you go bathing; I havn’t “dreamt” of your costumes yet. In the middle of writing this I have had tea and a game of billiards and beat the other chap by 104-79.Have you had any lively nights at all? Has Harry Heap joined up yet? We are playing at Officer’s Mess tonight so I will have to make haste and get ready. I also hope the weather is fine Sunday; of course this will be the last letter to Bournemouth, so I can only say that I hope you have enjoyed yourself. The other morning when we we were out we saw some bombing and smoke attacks; I suppose it will be on the pictures as “action in France”. Our boys were out practising bombing yesterday and eight got wounded and four are now in hospital.

Please excuse writing Yours for Ever With Love Will xx One for Mabel x

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7th August 1917

46534 Bandsman W. Metcalfe, 100 T.R.Batt, Band Hut, Albuhera Bks, Stanhope Lines, Aldershot
Dearest Emmie

I received your letter this afternoon and while the others are cleaning their instruments I am writing this. I hardly ever clean my cornet because being silver (colour) it does not go so dull as brass. I am glad to hear the weather has changed: it is fine here now and will be alright for you to come down on Sunday if it does not change again. I am glad to hear you are enjoying yourself and that you are not taking on another boy. Yesterday there was a fair in those gardens where I went with you once 6d entrance fee: but a man gave me his “pass out” ticket and I passed in with it. One game they had for the public was kissing in the ring. The boys and girls formed a ring and just by tapping one another on the shoulder there was a chase ending with a kiss in the ring. Needless to say I did not join in. There are a lot of Americans here and you may guess they had a big hand in the game. This evening we are playing on our lawn just for the benefit of the batt: tomorrow afternoon for the V.T.C. and Thursday at Officer’s Mess so we are full up for a little while. Well my darling I am longing to see you so I hope I am not disappointed Sunday.

With Best Love. Will xx

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6th August 1917

Allington House
Dear Will

Thanks for letter, we are having a most enjoyable time & splendid weather, I am going to take Mabel rowing this afternoon, it is lovely where we are staying some very nice boarders & when we go up to roost we have such fun, you see there is a fellow in the next room to ours & the wall between is only a wooden partition & he can hear all we say, he was talking to us early this morning & then we do morse code on the wall. I am enjoying myself as there are plenty of Australians down here & we can have a pal if we want one, two or 3 have spoken to us, one said “let me hold your hand darling”, & then the 3 of them followed us a long way & kept talking to us. I shall have a lot to tell you Will, on Sunday. Wouldn’t it be grand if you were with us, I only wish you could come. I hope dear you enjoy Bank Holiday. By the way I solved the postscript, & I am sure I am not envious in that case. I will tell you of our adventure & several others on Sunday. It is very hot today, what kind of weather are you having at Aldershot? Well I have no more to say, or rather write, just now, but send me a line as soon as you possibly can. (I did not like that sentence in your letter, about my being bored Will, you must not say that, or I shall think you are taking things lightly. You know perfectly well I am not bored. I will let you know when I am. Well I will now close with fondest love from your Sweetheart Emmie xxxx

P.s I am not having anything to do with the soldiers or any other boys Will down here, there is only one for me you know.

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