Earlier this year, whilst doing some housekeeping on my Ancestry subscription (yes, I’m a massive family history geek!), I discovered a letter I wrote in 2014 to the Unknown Soldier project. It was published on 14-18 Now on 6th August 2014. Even though it was written about World War One, I feel it is relevant as we approach the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the end of the Second World War in Europe. It was an emotional re-read for me…
Anyone who feels connected to their family, ancestors or has a sense of history, I think will feel the same way. I have always been interested in the personal side of war. When learning at school or if anything is dramatised it always focuses on the horror, politics or military tactics. The real stories, those who braved the hardship at home – women bringing up their children without any support and slotting into roles that traditionally weren’t there’s, parents grieving for children and grandchildren, children longing for their male role model, those who weren’t physically strong enough, the elderly and the sick – all whilst under the umbrella of fear for themselves and their loved ones.
I’d like to dedicate this to all of the forgotten characters, personas and personalities and their qualities, stories and antidotes.
You are not an unknown soldier, but you are to me.
I would love the opportunity to ask you so many questions about your life – today we can get a sense of how awful the war is (though never completely understanding), thousands of boys are losing their lives, the horrors of the war are well documented here in 2014 – but I want to know about you. The paper trail that we can trace doesn’t include the type of person you are and your personality. Are you kind and caring, or loud and entertaining?
Being from a large family, ten of you growing up crammed into a small three-bedroomed house in the heart of industrial Cardiff I bet you were used to rations, noise and commotion. Just before the war, you married Emily, who according to records lived a few doors down the street. Is that how you met? Was it the familiarity of seeing each other so often that made you comfortable enough to approach her, or did you sweep her off her feet like a Hollywood heartthrob?
Sadly you lost your first child, but as the war begins Emily gives birth to another boy. It won’t be your last child either; in total, you will have nine children. You are a Private in the Monmouthshire Regiment, in Wales. What are your duties on a day to day basis? Why are you based so far from home? Do you miss your family, and how are they adjusting to life at home without you there?
I think also of your mother; she has given birth to ten children, but only eight are still alive at the start of the war. Five of them are boys and are all involved in the war in some way. The youngest is 10 year old Alexander, but he is employed to help distribute the latest news in the Cardiff Times.
The oldest Arthur, who is 10 years your senior, is not enlisted but is working at the docks in Cardiff Bay. It is his job to make sure that the ships are full of coal to be ferried off around the country so factories can continue to function and of course supply the naval ships that have docked nearby.
Your younger brothers William and George are both seeing action in France. George is part of the Royal Field Artillery and William has joined the Lancashire Fusiliers. Again, why is he so far from home? He was working with Arthur in the docks just before war was declared. Both of them have seen action and have been awarded the three medals; Victory, British and the Star. You also have the Victory and the Star, what did you think of these medals? Did you aspire to get one? Did you pity or admire those that had them?
I bet you’d have a few questions for me too! This letter has taken me seconds to send and be received, instead of waiting weeks for the post. I keep in contact with my friends via social media, and phone messages available every hour of the day, plus I work in an industry that doesn’t exist to you. But as you’re gone, we’ll never really know…
All my love, your great-granddaughter