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.

17th August 1918

Dearest Emmie

I have the opportunity of writing you a few lines as I have a half hour more to spare than anticipated. I haven’t had a letter from you for three days so I don’t know what to write about.

I went to the pictures the other day and saw a picture called “Womanhood” in seven parts. It was very good have you seen it advertised in London at all. I have a ring of violets I am going to send you when I get a green envelope. It was made by a petit fille français rather neat too.

Has Mr Chapman received my letter yet? Have they started repairing the organ yet at the Mish? One of our latest pieces is La Seronata I think you know it. We are getting a good amount of French music and the French people appreciate although from the flutes. Well my dear I don’t think I have any more to write now so will conclude

With Fondest Love from

Your Will xx

PS. I might not get much chance to write next week but I will do my best.

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11th August 1918

Dearest Emmie

In answer to yours of the 6th inst, I am sorry my letter took so long to reach you. This letter although dated 11th which is today will not be collected until tomorrow and then it has to be censored. Well this is going to be a green envelope and they are not generally censored but for some reason or other are delayed at the base. In future I will date my letters on the day they are collected.

I don’t think I would care for a 14 mile ramble, much too long I think. I wouldn’t mind a short walk. I would not be able to enjoy myself so much continually on the jaunt as I would walking round a fair. Perhaps you think me queer but I have done enough walking although perhaps not so much as some chaps. You will have to have a bicycle après la guerre.

I saw in the paper that a zepp had been brought down I recon they will give up zepp raids one of these days. I remember one zeppy night especially, do you know why? You said I was a “sorsee” boy that night didn’t you, compre? Well I couldn’t help it. I simply had to. You took it calmer than I thought you would that premier baiser.

As to the colour of mine eyes well I always used to say that they were blue but you would have it that they were grey.

When I was un petit garcon they were blue but now they are granite grey.

I wrote to Mr Chapman directly after the last time you mentioned it so it didn’t take long to cause a “material effect” did it.

I am sorry to hear that Will had a wet journey to Brighton. I know what it is riding in the wet. It took me 4 hours to do the journey. I started at 6a.m. and arrived there at 10 o’cl. just as the train in which Mum & Dad was came in. I had a good ride but had a puncture coming back. I dare say he will come back quicker than he went.

We are back in our leaky billet again as the civilians have returned to their home.

This is about the only point Jonny has not attacked so we are lucky being here.

I saw two men today who are going on leave, they are about 12 months men so its coming down. I think leave starts next month so perhaps I will be home before next April now. We are allowed a warrant to take one journey on any railway at a cheap rate when we are on leave from France. I’ll hardly know what to do when I get home we are like the Japs do everything on the floor.

I hear that Desmond is a pianist in a concert party out here. Lucky dog I say. I wrote him the other day so hope to get a reply soon.

I see Miss Verlindee (as on the front of the Mag) is a teacher at the dancing class. I guess things are livening up at the Mish. now.

[text reversed] I am longing for the time when I will be able to give you a nice kiss. You are the last I did the same to and I hope that you are the first one when I get to Blighty.

I will now conclude with

Fondest Love

from Yours Ever

Will xxx

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10th August 1918

Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand of Rom: Way received yesterday. It is Saturday today and it seems an age since last Sunday so by the time you receive this you will have forgotten all you wrote about. It was not a very long letter and I am afraid this will have to be the same.

I went to a horse show yesterday. We walked from 8a.m. till 2p.m. for the motors to tale us and we passed part of the time away by sitting on the kerb enjoying the scenery of the ruins “en face”. As we arrived there late we did not see much and some of our rations was down there and we didn’t see them at all. There was a canteen that had nothing to sell as it had been raided. I suppose they didn’t serve quick enough. We got back about 8 o’cl and were lucky to get a lorry, some of the chaps had to walk back which must have taken them about 2½ hours.

It is the twins birthday on Weds 14th inst they will be 17. Well my dear I will close now and write more next time if poss.

Fondest Love from Will

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7th August 1918

Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand of the 1st inst. No! perhaps we wouldn’t want to go to the ramble I dare say we could enjoy ourselves just as well on our own as with a crowd: what say you?

On Aug. 4th 14 I think I was a “Southend sur mer”. I remember there were about a doz. newspaper editions every afternoon. Special War Ed: every time. To hear me speak one would think I was a paper boy perhaps it is rather a funny incident to remember.

There was no tragedy in the letter you mention everybody seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when the new colonel came.

I think “it” is quite safe and no fear of it being squashed, in fact it is growing.

The shortest I have seen is a 128th demisemi-demisemiquaver = 1 semi-breve. A demisemiquaver is a 32nd note. semiquaver 16th note. (28th) (94th) (92nd) (O,)(||O|| breve has two beats.) Compre? The latter is mostly seen in church music. You might be surprised if I say that I have no book or rudiments of music I read one once though not here and I had a small one which I left in the band in Blighty, that is all. I think music is the quickest think I grasp, other things I am generally slow but shure. I havn’t seen G Watson again but I dare say I will before he goes up the line. His brother will be of age soon and I don’t think he’s much bigger than young Bert. I must perforce close now as the post is going.

Fondest Love from Yours Ever Will .

6th August 1918

Dearest Emmie

In answer to yours of the 31st ult I am better now thanks it was only a cold but I thought it might have been the ‘flu’ again as my eyes ached so much. I should imagine ‘Chu Chin Chow’ is rather difficult to play, n’est-ce pas?

It is still the same as usual here only there seem to be more civilians coming back to their homes. We have just had a practice so this is my second attempt at writing. The last letter I wrote you I should think I left it no less than eight times. It is now pouring of rain so we are just back in time.

I saw George Watson this morning. When you wrote and said that he had seen me I had no idea that he was in a fighting Regt. I thought he would have been in the labour corps. I had a few words with him and will see him again before he goes up the line. I would like to know how Will likes his ride, it is his first long one isn’t it. If you ever have a husband as you say, you have to honour and obey him so he might do whitewashing on Bank Holiday.

By now you will have had your ramble and I hope that you enjoyed it. I had a letter from W.L. and will answer it when I get time. I hope you like the card I sent you yesterday it was a pretty one I think, was not it? I don’t think I told you, but not long ago I met a chum who used to go with me to St Brides school, strange how small the world is isn’t it. Sorry if this is “buckshee” news to you, compre?

Well I will close now dinner is up and there is no “buck” that is an abbreviated buckshee or perhaps the masculine the latter sounds somewhat feminine. Please remember me to Ma & Pa

Fondest Love

From Will xxx

4th August 1918

Dear Emmie

In answer to yours of the 29th ult I don’t think you read that French as I meant you to. It was a joke; I should have told you! Did you see it. It is not exactly against the rules to write in French but the censor might have to find the interpreter which would cause a bit of trouble. I don’t know if I told you I was about 2.5.0 in debt a little while ago but the books have been made up and now I have an enormous credit:- 3/-. I think I’ll take a leave to Blighty to spend it. I am glad to hear George Todd is safe. I wonder how he likes his German home. I’ll write to home when I get his address. I did not see G. Watson what is he in? I can’t make out where he saw me. I think we used to play ‘Maid of the Mountains ‘ in England but I forget how it goes now. Glad to hear the concert party goes on well. I suppose Mr Cannon still sings comic. We are playing retreat soon so I will finish this later. It is now Bank Holiday Monday, I was unable to finish this yesterday. I don’t want to bother about Ch+pn-ism now as I havn’t really time to spend on it. I might speak to our Padre about it. It is only about 500 years old as far as I can make out and if you only listen to one side of the question it will have its desired effect. You say “how is the war getting on” well that’s more of a question I would ask you. We get papers especially printed for us so you see we don’t see both sides of the question. There are Blighty papers issued but I havn’t seen one for some time. The Germans were certainly retreating according to plan when you wrote last; the papers said that his retirement was being very well carried out but now I think he is beginning to run. Of course his plans now are not the original ones of taking Paris etc. but nevertheless they are plans. I do not know the places to which you refer and nobody else here seems to. We have finished our cooker job and I am glad to say they took the first prize in a show. Well I will now close.

With Fondest Love

from Will xxx