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.

20th June 1918

Dearest Emmie

Just a few lines to let you know that I am still going along fairly well. I havn’t heard from you for four days but I suppose I will get two or three together perhaps this afternoon. I don’t feel like writing much as I have a touch of the “flue” but I will be alright in a few days. Perhaps you have heard about it, it only lasts about three days. It tried to rain this morning but the sun prevailed and is now shining strong. I have seen C.G. two or three times since he has been down; he is a stretcher-bearer and his chum is also who was in the 52nd band. I went to the pictures last night and they were alright.(3d) I have seen much worse in London. Well my dear I must now close to catch the post

With Best Love from Will xxx

P.S. Please remember me to your Ma & Pa and also the boys.

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15th June 1918

Dear Emmie

Yours to hand of the 7th & 11th inst; the former went up the line therefore I got it late. I saw some Ryl.W.Kents, this morning so I hope to see C.G. this afternoon. I am sorry but I havn’t a photograph of myself or I would let you have it. The only thing I could suggest is for you to get a reduction of the head and shoulders of that one of me in my sports jacket, at the “M.S.A.” they could easily do it. So sorry to hear you couldn’t be spared for a few hours on the R.B.F.D. What was it in aid of you didn’t say or I might have known why the soldiers refused to buy a flag. I hope that Mrs Todd has heard from George by now I don’t know where he was. I believe leave has started but not in our battalion yet. No doubt it will start soon if old Jerry doesn’t push too much. I did not find Mag: enclosed and I did not expect to but of course you meant that you were sending it along, yes no? I will write to Mr Warder soon perhaps tomorrow. It doesn’t seem a year ago that I was at Aldershot, can you remember the time I had to do the gallant and carry you through all that water? well I wouldn’t mind doing it again. I dare say the evenings do seem long for you, it doesn’t get dark till about 9.30p.m here I suppose it is the same at home. I hear Mabel has returned home again I suppose it meant her getting up too early or else she was too far away from Will. Has he joined up yet. I saw C Giles this afternoon and also a lot of other boys out of the 52nd Charles is a stretcher bearer but hasn’t had much of that work to do yet. I seem to be writing this letter in bits; we have just had tea, bread and marmalade. You know before I joined up I didn’t like jam or marmalade on bread but I have changed my taste now. I have just found out what has been the matter with my nib lately, it has been too far away from the ink feeder to allow what is known as “capillary attraction” to take place, which makes the ink flow; got me? I think I will pack up now as I am going to write a letter to Mr Warder so bon nuit

with Fondest Love From Will xx

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13th June 1918

Dearest Emmie

I am just writing a few lines to you tonight and will finish this letter tomorrow before the post goes out. I am enclosing a silk postcard and I hope you like it. I went to the pictures this evening and they were very good. I have just finished reading a book called “A Gentleman of France” I dare say you have read it haven’t you. I forgot to tell you last time that I get all new cloths being in the band and I am actually being measured for them a very rare thing for privates in the Army. Our band looks very smart they had their photo’s taken the other night but of course I was not with them as my cloths were too shabby just coming out of the line. I must close for tonight as it has turned “lights out” so happy dreams Emmie dear. It is now 14th but I am not sure what day it is I will have to find out. We have practice every morning for about 2½ hours and sometimes in the afternoon. Before long I hope to be best 7 flute player and I don’t think it will be very long either. I have surprised myself with the way I have got on. I think there are just 21 in the band and they don’t make a bad row either. We have just had dinner: the usual “Stew” and date duff for “afters” our food is much better now better than they are getting up the line I dare say. I hear that one of the old band boys has managed to get into a brass band he is lucky. I havn’t heard anything of Desmond yet but hope to get his address soon that I may be able to write him. Please will you send me a brass button-stick and some Soldier’s Friend button polish it is unobtainable here but the drummers have to be smart. If possible I will get my photo taken in my best. I havn’t heard from you for two or three days I suppose the letters have gone up the line. Well my dear I must now conclude

With Fondest Love

From Yours Ever Will xx

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11th June 1918

Dear Emmie

First of all I am pleased to state that I have shortened my address somewhat. “Drummer W.M. 19013 9th Royal Suss. Regt. B.E.7.7.” At last I have succeeded in getting into the “drums” and we are now all together in one large room and the companies have gone up the line. Of course I don’t know how long this bit of luck is going to last but I must make the best of it while I can. I got on famous on the flute this morning considering it was the first time for nearly a twelve-month, you see we havn’t a “brass band” so a drum & pipe has to do. I have another piece of rather good news to relate, I have found a cousin of mine in this batt, he has been up four years and lives at Ninfield near Battle. He also got into the band today very lucky we should meet so. He is sitting beside me writing and I suppose he is mentioning me in his letter home. He is about 24 but doesn’t look it he is rather dark and has been wounded once making a fractured arm and leg but of course he is better now. I hope I havn’t bored you with my discription of him. He is also about my own build. When we were up last time it was rather rough and I had plenty of work to do. Well I mustn’t grumble now as I am in a ”better ‘ole” than most of them. I think I told you that I heard from C.G. well I hope to see him in a few days time I think I will finish this epistle tomorrow as the hour is late for the Army “Lights out” has gone long ago it is now 10.30pm. It is now 6.30a.m. Wednesday and I am in bed writing this i.e. on the floor with my overcoat and tunic over me. As I write here the firing of the guns jog me; these buildings are very frail and a strong wind would shake them. Next time you send a parcel please let me have a small tin of “Meloids” one tin would last me months out here. I can think of no more to write now so will conclude

With Best Love

From Yours Ever Will xx

P.S. The other day I wrote a letter to C.G. and by mistake addressed it to you that proves I was thinking of you doesn’t it. I think of you morn. noon, & night and something seems to tell me that the war is not going to last much longer and I will be able to come home to you once more.

P.S.S. Please find note enclosed for Mum.

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6th June 1918

Dear Emmie

We are now enjoying a short spell away from the trenches which I think has been well earned this time. The weather here is fine how would you like a row on the “Serp” this afternoon I suppose you havn’t been on the water lately, have you? When I started writing this I meant to write a long letter but now I have no time I hope to tell you something very interesting in regards to what I called my “old title” but do not fill yourself with false hopes. I have had a letter from C.G. but havn’t had time to write him yet. Please excuse these few lines as I must catch the post

Best Love

From Will xxx

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4th June 1918

Dear Emmie

Just a very few lines to let you know that I am alright and that I have received yours of the 30th alt. Sorry I should make the Censor cross some of that letter out but I was not aware that I had oversteped the mark. By the time you receive this I hope to be out of the line for a few days and it will be well earnt this time. Glad to hear that you got on alright with the organ it will be alright when the big one is done up. I am glad you are having your photo: taken I was going to ask you to have it done although I have three of you. The last one I think was Christmas 1916. J.M. seems to be getting on well with his singing, do the twins still go with him. I don’t feel flattered by the “further addition” I would feel just in my right place. I havn’t had time to write to C.G. yet but will do so in a few days time. I would like Will Arnold’s address if you please. I must close now as I can see a busy time coming before me this evening so I must get fourty and one winks. Please excuse scribble.

With Fondest Love

From Will

Please send some thirst tabs in next parcel.

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