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.

23rd August 1917

Bandsman W. Metcalfe 46534, Aldershot
Dear Emmie

Thanks for letter received this afternoon. Have I to wait till 1.p.m. Sunday for to know whether I am to see you or not? I dare say you will be able to let me have a P.C. or something just to set me at ease. Did you see anything of the lightening last night; it lasted from about 9.p.m. last night until after 3 AM. this morning. It was so great that we thought there was a big raid on. Somebody said they had seen a dispatch rider from London and he was supposed to have left London while the raid was in progress. It was quite a relief when we saw by the paper this morning that it was lightning. I shouldn’t think it was very nice being in that cellar, was it? I am glad there was not a raid. They don’t seem to be able to get to London now, but if we go to Felixstowe I reckon we’ll have a lively time. In France we have captured a lot of prisoners and ground and it is supposed to be the best move we have gained out there. I or rather “we” have not taken that theatre stunt on again (excuse my army slang) but I always find pleanty else to do. I should think you would be retireing with that £6,000 but you must be careful not to do the railway company out of too much. I don’t think you need have apologised to the accountant because without mistakes he would not be wanted.  Have not had any innoculations lately and also I have not written to Mr Warder but I will do when I get time. I think Craddock must be in the wire-less what I tried to get in, but somehow I feel as if I am as well off here. The band is being replaced by the orchestra at Officer’s Mess so I will be there tonight. Tomorrow all the band start messing together so I do not know how we will be dining or how much we will get. I am still hoping to see you Sunday. You don’t know how much I want you and another thing, your letters are never too long for me to read. Well! I conclude now, Best Love. Will. xx

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22nd August 1917

16, Tiber St
Dear Will

In answer to yours received this afternoon. Do not say “I suppose I will have to give in to you” there is no need for that, you know I would like to come this week but you must see what I mean. Besides, one week will not make much difference to wait. I do not know yet what you Pa & Ma are going to do, I have asked Mabel several times but she says she does not know, However some of us will be there Sunday, so be at the station in any case, either to meet me or yore Pa & Ma. I am looking forward to come while the nice weather lasts, and if you are moved especially to Felixstowe I shall not be able to come & see you at all, as it is necessary to obtain a passport, have your photo taken & report to the nearest Police Station, Felixstowe being a military town, rather a rigmarole don’t you think, let us hope you will not be sent there or Harwich. We had an air raid warning this morning; The sirens were sounded & all the girls went to the cellar underneath the railway, we stayed there about 1½ hrs. This cellar holds about 200 but it is a dingy hole, it was rather funny, some individual had conceived the idea that it was the wine cellar we were to shelter in, what a surprise we had, it contained, empty ginger beer bottles, dripping bins, cabbages & anything but wine, the only tendency to that was a beery smell, however it is positively safe. Most of the public went to the tubes, “some” excitement you can guess. They did not reach London, but I hear there were a great number over Felixstowe, I do not know if this is correct. Last night there was a Zepp raid over the Lincolnshire coast, they are getting sprightly again. I have not heard the good news from France, tell it me, it is not often we get good news. I am sorry to hear you had such a hard day yesterday, whatever was happening, you seem to get along alright in the concert line, by the way do you play at that theatre still, you have not said anything about it. I do not know if you remember me telling you about a weekly Traffic statement I have to make out every week, but last week I nearly got my notice to quit, it is rather a difficult concocture (?) & somehow I happened to be £6000 out, the statement was signed and passed to the accountants Dept. before it was noticed too, when it came back for correction, I discovered I had entered that amount in the Increase column instead of the decrease column, & hence the amount to much. However alls well that ends well, the matter is forgotten now, but I had to apologise etc. to the gentleman it inconvenienced as it delayed his summary somewhat. I know what I have been going to ask you, have you had any more innoculations lately, & also have you written to Mr Warder? I am going to the Mish. to night. & I feel somehow he will say something of you, so if you have not written, do not forget when you have a little time to spare. You know Craddock, the boy who lives 2 or 3 doors from you, I saw him last night & he does look a swell. I do not know what he is in, but he had a sort of naval uniform, bespattered with Gold Braid, W. Lowry said he had got a commission so I suppose that would mean he was a naval officer, do you think so? Well I have no more to relate at present; I hope you will not get tired reading all my scribble, but I like to tell you all that happens somehow, whether you consider it interesting or not I do not know. I will close now,

Remaining your Emmie, Till the sands of the desert grow cold xx

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21st August 1917

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

I did not receive your letter until this afternoon so it took rather longer than expected. I will have to give way to you I suppose but I would like to see you next Sunday. Perhaps Mum will not be coming this week. We had a fair tea at the Officers’ Club on Sunday but we could do with some more when we got back. I do not go every Sunday morning to Communion but I am going next Sunday if I wake early enough. We have had a very hard day today so I feel a bit tired. The is going to be another concert tomorrow night and I am playing in the orchestra. I think that leave is starting soon. I do not know whether it is four or six days I hope it is the latter. I am glad to hear the good news from France; we were told when we were on parade this morning; if it continues the war may be over soon. A boy has just come in and is saying that he has heard that we are not going to get leave until we have left Aldershot. I thought I would let you know the worst so as if it happens it will not come so much of a shock.

I have no more to say now only that the weather keeps very fine so I now conclude

From your Loving Boy Will. xx

P.S. Please excuse scribble as the light is bad.

P.S.S. Please tell me if you don’t like this paper

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20th August 1917

16, Tiber St
Dear Will

In answer to your most welcome etc I am pleased to hear you’ve had your tooth out. one good thing that peg will not trouble you again. Now Will, if your ma & pa say they will be coming next Sunday, they must not be put off. I shall not come if they want to, it would not be right and besides I could not enjoy myself if I knew they were stopping at home for me, and I have seen you since they have, so if you would like to please me, I ask you not to say anything about my coming, I will come the Sunday after that, Sept. 2nd. do not forget now. I shall not like it if you put them off, of course if nothing more is said, I will come next Sunday. I had a very nice time at Brighton, the weather was lovely, young Bertram is enjoying himself, he goes bathing morning & afternoon. I hope you had a nice tea at the officers club after all. Do you go to Communion every Sunday morning now? Keep in mind the nice spot you have discovered where the black-berries are, if I come Sund. Fortnight, they will be blacker still. I expect the reason you have not heard from home , is that your pa has been busy, he only came home last Tuesday & your Mother being away, she has not had too much time to share, but cheer up they think none the less about you I am certain. I am writing this letter at business so that it will catch the 12.30 post, so let me know if you get it today, last time you got it the same evening. I will now close with Best Love from your sweetheart Emmie x

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19th August 1917

Bandsman W. Metcalfe 46534, Aldershot
Dear Emmie

I received your letter last night at 7 o’clock and also a card from Brighton this morning. I did the galant last Friday evening and had that tooth out. I didn’t do any work yesterday but I went out with the band to church this morning. You ought to see me now I look twice as fat (in the face) as when you saw me last. I havn’t heard from home for some time now so I know nothing of Mum and Dad coming down. I want you to come next Sunday and if I hear from home about their coming down I will get them to put it off for a week. Upon you alone do I rely for letters which keep my spirits up so I want you first. This time I have nearly an hour and a half for my “own dear self” to write to you so I ought to fill two pages with writing. This afternoon at 3,o’cl we are going to play at the Officer’s club and I think we get a tea so I hope it’s decent. I know a nice quiet place, where there are pleanty of black-berries, to go to next Sunday so I hope the weather keeps fine for us. Last night I went to the pictures and saw a piece called “The slave market” which was very good. I hope you have enjoyed your day at Brighton; I suppose you didn’t go in the sea again but if the weather there is the same as here you will have had a fine time. Last Sunday night we had a very heavy storm, did you get any of it in London. I do not think there is more to write now my “darling” you know how I love you so I will conclude.

With Best Love Will .

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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


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


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


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