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.

21st April 1918

Dear Emmie

I am just writing to let you know that I am alright but there is nothing at all of any importance to tell you. I hope you are getting my letters; I haven’t received one from you yet. I will let you have my address a little fuller this time: It is “Pte W.M. 19073, 3 Platoon A Coy, 9th Royal Sussex Regt, 24 Div, B.E.F. France”. Do you feel any older now? It sounds a lot doesn’t it, 20 and never been k-d. We had a bath today: No! not an annual, a monthly! It was a warm shower. 21/4/18 I went to a service in a barn this morning and H.C. at 12 o’cl: there were about 20 there very good I think. We never hardly get any field post-cards and I haven’t had a green envelopes yet or I would write oftener. Please will you send me a little paper & envelopes as this is the sample of it out here.

There is a roumer that a big mail has come in so I hope there are some letters for me. This letter will not go until tomorrow evening so I hope you get it some time next week. I have just bought a couple of eggs that is how we live out here it takes us about an hour to get a drop of water to boiling point. I must close now and will write again as soon as possible.

With Fondest Love

From Will xx

PS. Please remember me to your Ma & Pa.

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10th April 1918

Dear Emmie

I sent you my address the other day but as it was at the head of the letter perhaps it did not pass the censor. It is “Pte W Metcalfe 19013, 9th Royal Sussex Regt, “A” Coy, 3 Platoon, B.E.F. France. I did not have time to write yesterday only a P.C. We are now in a loft and have to get up and down a ladder every time we go in or out. The first night here we slept in a field and every night so far we have been in a different place.

I have had my name taken to go on a stretcher bearing course and I think it might just suit me. The little French that I know comes in very handy, and I can easily make myself understood. I thought at first that I would find the money difficult to use but it soon became easy. We had a ciggarett issue yesterday; they are unobtainable in any shops here. I hope you are quite well at home and please remember me to your Ma & Pa. Perhaps you have read of the good work that our div: has done we are now at a base and will be for some little time yet.

Well my dear I will have to conclude now

With my very best Love

From Yours Ever

Will xxx

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8th April 1918

Pte W Metcalfe 19013, 9th Royal Suss Regt., [censored], B.E.F., France
Dear Emmie

We were moving all day yesterday and I didn’t get a chance to write. I think this address will find me. We had a route march from 8 o’cl last night till 1.30 this morning and a lot of the boys fell out. Will write a letter as soon as poss. We slept in a field last night and it wasn’t bad either. My face is better now. Think I will have the tooth out.

Please write soon

Best Love From Will xx

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5th April 1918

W.R.M.

Dear Emmie

We are still at the same place; hundreds come in every day so I should think we will be moving soon. I have caught a cold in my face and it is nearly twice its normal size. There were nine of the band when we came over here and now we have been broken up and posted to different battalions making three pairs and one trio. C.Gibbs is now in the Royal West Kents and their badge is like a galloping horse. I will be glad when I can let you have my address it seems such a long time since I heard from you. You must have a lot to tell me by now. I wish I had something more interesting to write about but we are in camp all day and nothing to look at but sand and tents. It is sand everywhere and it has a knack of getting into our rifles as we have no covers yet. Last night I left all my pack out in the open and of course it raised all the time. My iron rations were not very hard after that soaking. I will conclude now hoping that you are all quite well.

With Fondest Love

From Yours Ever

Will xx

[Transcriber’s note: this letter employs the censor-evading ‘code’ detailed in Will’s postcard to Emmie on 31st March, enabling her to work out where he is in France. As she calculates in pencil on the back of the envelope, he is writing from Etaples.]

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4th April 1918

Dear Emmie

We have all been posted to different batts: I am in the 9th Suss: now but still I do not know my address. We are moving tomorrow and then I hope to let you know what it is. C.Gibbs is now in the Royal W.Kents so I have a new friend now; a Bert this time. All the old band boys are separated now the first time in 11 months. Will try to write a letter by tomorrow.

With Love

From Will x

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3rd April 1918

Dear Emmie

We are still at the same place and expect to be shifted tomorrow but I don’t know how many times this will reccur, we should have moved yesterday by the general rumour. I find the Canadians both men and officers very fine fellows; there is not that distinction in rank in their army that there is in ours and therefore I think the men work much better. There are some darkies working here and they do move, there are also some Chinese and the move also, like tortoises. We get the Daily Mail here, the continental edition one day old for 20 centimes. I think there is every reason to be optimistic over this German push there seem to be plenty of men here. I will let you know when we go up the line but you must not worry. I have a presentiment that I will be alright. I don’t really know what to write about as we are restricted so much but mainly because we haven’t been doing anything of any importance. I will fill another line by saying again that there is no address but I hope to have one tomorrow. Well my dear I will now conclude hoping that you are all keeping well and free from air raids.

With Fondest Love

From Yours

Will xx

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2nd April 1918

Dear Emmie

We are still at the same place; I think we are moving tomorrow. We have no address yet. This afternoon we had a Russian Steam bath. It’s like an abbreviated Turkish bath. The sun is shining brightly and we are doing the same as yesterday. We are with a lot of Canadians and they are very fine chaps. There are a lot of Chinese men here in the labour corps. Cigarets are very cheap here. Will write a letter tomorrow if I have time.

Much Love

From Yours

Will xx

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