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 September 1918

Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand of the 18th inst. The news is good this morning about the victory in Palestine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them drop out now. I am sorry to hear you have a cold I hope it’s not the ‘flu’. I had a letter from Mabel yesterday and she told me all about you falling into the sea, etc. it’s a good job it wasn’t deep. I can’t see what Les wants to join the Navy for but if he goes I hope he likes it, it will mean signing on for about 15 years I suppose. We have had rather a lot of rain lately but it seems to dry up between the showers. We keep quite dry so far but if course the winter as not started yet. I haven’t had the opportunity of going to H.C. lately but will do so as soon as poss. I have just had a letter from Frank Champ and he has been hit in the back. It is not very bad and I don’t suppose he will get to Blighty. I am glad to hear you Dad was discharged I am shure you didn’t want him to go did you. I am also glad to hear that your Mother is better perhaps she had been eating tinned food. We have fairly good baem [breakfast and evening meal] nearly every day here but we are always jolly hungry before meals. I have now got to steam up before playing out with

Fondest Love

from Will

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22nd September 1918

Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand of the 15th and two of the 16th inst received yesterday. Perhaps you would like me to accompany you with your song, would you not? I’ll get a week end for such an auspicious occasion, perhaps not.

Did you have a hero to pull you out after falling in the sea. I think you had better tell me all about it because I don’t expect a letter from Mabel. Perhaps you did similar to what I did after falling in the canal. I hope the organ is finished by the time I get home but I don’t suppose it will be this side of Christmas. How did your Dad go on at the med. Exam. I hope and expect he was not passed A1 especially as his legs are so bad now. I think “pessimism” and “optimism” are two favourite words of W.J.’s. I remember an argument he had with Will Sharp in 1913 as to what the words really meant.

As to the Christ’delph I am not going to think over it only find out two points which Will spoke of. Will they keep W.Watts in the Flying Corps or rather the Ryl Air Force now that he has finished flying. I am surprises about that sketch rather a funny way of going about things but still I hope the concert goes alright. I read in the paper that the railway had come to terms with the men. If they could only see a little of life out here I don’t think they would strike. Of course we never get our full pay. Some of the men are £15 in credit but I am glad to say I am not 15d that way. It seems rather a funny thing to say I suppose but I have had my money. It is a craze to buy War bonds now but I wouldn’t buy any out here if I had the off-tish as I have an account at home. It would be a lot of good us striking for more pay, when a chap gets shot for being absent a few hours of course he had more than that for previous crimes, I think we might be struck with a piece of lead. Well I must close now to catch the post with

Fondest Love

from Will xx

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16th September 1918

Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand of the 9th inst. I am not on rugged rocks but the floor. We had a bit of a hail storm last week so perhaps it was the same as you were in. Strange you should meet someone you knew at Ilfracombe was it at Bournemouth last year that you met Palmers what’s-his-name? I don’t quite see why you would have said “Have you any letters for me” should you have met Mr Painter again. I just rumble now, letters to take down I presume. Glad to hear you were so well off as regards food we have plenty of bully beef & biscuits here if we run short. Four in a loaf today, the bread is made with more flour on Sundays \ little & good. The Batt is out now. The paper you send me is quite good enough for a Tommy or Billy in this case.

The news is very good lately as regards advancing and taking prisoners but when it comes to leave I don’t see where the 60,000 a day get across the Channel. Are there many knocking about on leave in London. The weather has changed again now and the Sun is shining once more. It is now Monday morning, just turned 9 o’cl so I guess you have just started work and by now the old machine is clicking. I can hear the one next door in the Orderly room going it, that reminded me of you. They still seem to be doing things on the western front I suppose they will stop and settle down for winter soon. Well my dear I must now close for practice.

With Fondest Love

From Yours Ever

Will xxx

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15th September 1918

Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand of the 9th inst received last night. It has taken 7 days to get here quite a long time – no wonder I hadn’t had a letter for five days. I am glad to hear you liked your room, of course your holiday is over by now but I guess you had a good time. Of course you now we have servants to get our meals but we all have to take our turn. Sorry to hear you Dad is called up but perhaps they won’t have him if he suffers with his legs. What has you Mother been eating to get poisoned I hope she is better by now. I think I told you we are playing at the Corps H.Q. on Wednesday. I think it is a contest but I am not sure. I suppose Ilfracombe feels very little of the war are the street lights full on there of a night if so it must seem strange after darkened Londres. You like to watch the lights out at sea of a night and I dare say you would like to view the front line from the distance it is really interesting to see over-head shrapnel bursting and all the coloured verry lights in the air. The shells make worse noises than cats on the tiles; some are like engines going along and as I have said before it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for getting hurt. I might not get a chance to write much this week but will do my best.

With Fondest Love

From Will xxx

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12th September 1918

Dearest Emmie

Another few lines to let you know that I am still alive and kicking. I haven’t heard from you for four days now, what has happened? Of course by now you will be thinking of returning home and to work, well once more I say I hope you have thoroughly enjoyed yourself also Mabel. I expected to hear from Mable while she was away but no! Dad seems to be the only one who writes to me from home. I am feeding myself on Lyles syrup and condensed milk. Oh! we do have a time. I have written home for my cornet I would like to get a bit of an orchestra up if poss but I don’t know how many instruments we can get yet. Well Emmie dear I will close now hoping to hear from you this afternoon with

Fondest Love

From Will xx

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9th September 1918

Dearest Emmie

Yours to hand od the 3rd inst. I am glad to know that you are enjoying yourself and I wish I was now filling Maude’s place but at present I suppose that cannot be. You say that you have been picking “don’t-you-forget-its” so I conclude that was the same flower d’ans l’envelope for which I thank you very much. (I will finish this tomorrow as the light is going out) Somebody has come in the nick of time with another candle so I will continue. I have been trying some songs over tonight and I have found a pro organist in the Batt who accompanies me very well. We have not moved and don’t think we are going to now. I dare say that I could act that sketch well with you in private what? We have been having rain and still more rain this last week but one good thing is that our “holy” roof has been repaired. I hope that concert goes well and wish I could be there but I will be with you in thought instead. I wish I could answer Maude by wireless but as that is not available I can only say that her wishes are reciprocated. By the time you receive this letter I dare say you will be home again so you must start work again and settle down to winter nights. I dare say you find a friend in Maude do you go out with her much?

Well my dear I will now close as it is practice time.

Fondest Love

From Yours Ever

Will xxx

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8th September 1918

Dearest Emmie

I answer to yours of the 2nd inst I’m glad to hear that you are having a good time. I have not been able to write this last two or three days and if I had have done I wouldn’t have been able to post it.

You speak of blackberrying; that puts me in mind of about this time last year when I was at Aldershot and you used to come down we found some good ones there didn’t we. I guess that when you get with Maude you make a pair of nuts; I know what I would have done if I had been that soldier who felt the point of the prickle, I would have kept quite and not said a word and then retaliated at a suitable time. It is now pouring of rain and our roof has almost as many holes in it as it has tiles but for all that we are not getting much water in.

I do not compre your German “auf weidersehen” but I say “ditto”. What does it mean? We now play “Bound to Win” selection and we do chirp it out some. We are playing at Corps Headquarters again on the 18th inst. I do not know if it is a contest or not. I went to the pictures last night and saw G Watson there and of course we had a jaw. He does seem a nipper for line work and yet he is 21 in December. Please will you send me out some Meloids I have nearly finished the last lot. I think I will give up smoking for a time, we get in average 35 cigarettes issued a week but they are not up to much. I fully expected a letter today but no I must wait until tomorrow. I will now conclude

With Fondest Love

from Yours Ever

Will xx

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