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.

13th November 1918

Dearest Emmie

Now that the war is over or at least the fighting finished I have found an easy job well behind the line. I would have been much better it had come along about four or five months ago but now that the scrapping is na foo I am glad in one way that I have seen some of it and also done a little bit to wind it up. I am buglar at the 24 Div’s reception camp: that is where the men go to either going up or coming down the line. It is a kind of half way house. It was on the very last day of the fighting that I took this job over and of course if I don’t like it I will ask to be taken back to the Batt.

I do one day on and one off and always a night’s sleep so I should be alright.

You may guess that on the night of the 11th we had a bon time. We had a big bonfire of hay and straw which is not properly out now and two big carts were put on and also a lot of cordite and coloured lights. It is roumoured that we are gpoing back for about two months and then start demobolizing and I hope it comes off quickly too. Of course more men will be able to go on leave so I should be home about the end of Jan: As special arrangements are being made for demobilizing apprentices I hope to get off early in the new year. (and then I will make up for lost time.) You ask me if I still care as much for you, well when I get home I will show you. I hope you think I have stood the test well being away from you for so long a time. I am longing for the time when I can give you a pettit baiser a real one

From Your Ever Loving

Will xxx


12th November 1918

Dear Emmie

Just a few lines to let you know that I am still going on alright. I am buglar for a time at our reception camp and will let you have an address soon. The armistice is signed and of course all is quiet for a time so now we won’t be long. I think I thanked you for the cigs if not I do so now. You may guess there was a bit of cheering yesterday and everybody had a smile on their face. What was it like in London last night I would have liked to have been there. My address now is Drummer W.M. 19073 (9th B. Sx. Regt.) 24 Div: Reception Camp, B.E.F. France. I don’t suppose I will be here long as I would like to be with the Batt for Christmas. I was told last night the C. Gibbs has been slightly gassed; I hope it is not bad.

Well I will now conclude and write more next time.

With Fondest Love

From Yours Ever



10th November 1918

Dear Emmie

Yours to hand of the 4th inst. Thanks very much for the cigs. Merci aussi pour le powdre. I am not troubled very much as you suspect but we are occupying old German billits and they are not all très bon. Sorry to hear of the bad luck of your cousin it must be hard on his girl. I did not know Harold Day was wounded but it is not so bad in the knee, he might call it a cushy one. I read the extract from the paper and also similar from another paper and I think something will be done for apprentices. Please excuse me if I have not answered all your questions but I must perforce close.

Fondest Love

From Will xx

P.S. Please excuse writing as nib is going wrong.

P.S.S. I am moving on my own to a job down the base: It might be for two days or two months will let you know later.


7th November 1918

Dearest Emmie

Just a few lines to thank you for the parcel. The choc was très bon and please will you thank your Mother for me for the cigs. Please remember me to all and I hope that you all keep free from the ‘flu. I am sending my watch home when I get the chance as it has gone wrong. I don’t think it will take long to be mended so when we get settled down for a few days I will send it home. I will now close hoping to receive that letter as promised, today.

Fondest Love

From Will xxx


2nd & 5th November 1918

Dear Emmie

I havn’t heard from you lately and the last letter was the first for six days. I suppose there must be something wrong with the post. The latest good news is that Turky and Austria have packed up it is only rumour so far but I think it is true this time.  There was another bump on yesterday and I think the line has gone forward a bit. It is very strange but when we came to this place there was a lot of gas about and old Jerry has gone back so far that we don’t need our respirators with us now. I had a fine time the other morning out riding. I was the Brig. Gens buglar and had to follow him all over the place. I and another chap (or visa versa?) were the only ones who would chance being thrown off a horse so we had a good ride although I must admit that I am a bit saddle sore.

I am glad to say that we are having jolly fine weather for the 2nd of Nov. I wonder if there will be any fireworks on the fifth; I guess there will out here.

How is Will L. going on. Does Mable say. The civilians here say that the Germans have no music and no pleasure for the troops such as we have: concert parties etc. They seem delighted with our band although it is only drum and fife. We have a tea party to the children last night the first they have had for some time I guess. The mail is up again but there is no letter for me. I hope you are alright and havn’t got the flu: I don’t think I go up the line next time at least I hope not. We had a fairly good time last time up and the least casualties of any batt in the brigade.

Dearest Emmie

It is the 5th Nov today: I have been unable to post this letter so that is why it is delayed. I have received no letter from you for quite a long time now but I am looking forward to an extra-special one for the next, if not, a bundle. I am in a nice house now but don’t suppose it will be for long. At any rate I hope we stop here tonight. This place used to be an Estaminet and there is a barrel of cider or something in the cellar but of course we don’t drink it in case old “jerry” has tampered with it. I think this place has been occupied by a German Major from one or two envelopes laying about. Our Batt has captured some guns and prisoners this time in (I don’t think it is against the rules to say so) so the Colonel will be pleased. He always likes taking guns although they are not always available. I am quite ignorant of the latest news but I dare say it is good. We all hope the war is over this month and I think it is possible. Some Germans captured by us did not know that Austria and Turky had given in and were quite surprised when we told them. It is surprising the number of Germans who speak English. There are not many of us who can gabble their “broag”. Well my dear I will conclude now hoping you are quite well


Your Ever Loving

Will xxx

P.S. Could not do cat and dog puzzle please show me the way


29th October 1918

Dear Emmie

Yours to hand of the 23rd inst received yesterday. I am glad to hear that the organ is finished, they have been a long time with it but I suppose they can’t get the labour. I hear from a chap back off leave that it is hard to get cigarettes in London even, so it does not matter about sending me any unless you have already bought some.

I am sorry to hear that the flu’ is so bad in London and hope that you all keep free of it. Mum sent me a cutting out of the paper of someone playing a piano in a big town out here: that was a nearer guess than yours in fact it was white hot. Thinking of peace has a bad effect on the troops and makes them “windy” or that is what official circulars state. I must say that K.T. is unlucky and she didn’t ought to have any more to do with her nice young man. You say “if he was my boy” well if ifs and ands etc.

We have seen more civilians lately who have been set free by us and they are thankful and can’t show their gratitude enough. I don’t think they have been too lightly handled by what they say especially some of the girls. It is evident that they have not been overfed and for the time being are sharing our rations until better arrangements can be made.

I have been practicing on a clarinette this last week and didn’t make a bad fist of it either. Well Emmie dear I must close now so as to write a letter home.

With Fondest Love

From Yours Always

Will xxx


28th October 1918

Dear Emmie

I received a letter yesterday from you the first one for seven days. I have not got it to hand now so please excuse not answering questions. I did read that book “Rainbow Island” and did you know that two and a half chapters were missing: about 48 pages. It happened to read on fairly well so I presume you did not notice it. One section of the book was left out; a mistake in “making up”. We are having fairly warm weather for the time of year but perhaps it is usual here. We had a whist drive the other evening and it went off very well. I was not a prize winner of the 1st class, nor did I get the Booby prize. I will not write more now but will write a longer letter tomorrow (if I get the chance).

With Best Love

From Yours Ever

Will xxx