100 year-old pictures of First World War soldiers’ love letters released to public for anniversary

The Battle of Passchendaele.
The Battle of Passchendaele.

To mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele, love letters from soldiers killed the century-old battle ago have been released publicly by their descendants.

The battle took place close to the Belgian city of Ypres between July 31 and November 10, 1917.

They include correspondence such as the letters from Private Charles Snelling to his wife Alice and daughters, and a picture of Alice carried by Charles, which was found by chance in a forested area months after he lost his life in action.

The picture was returned to her by a corporal in the Soldiers Christian Association who found it, accompanied by a note saying he was sorry that he could not find the photo’s owner, and he could not say if he had been killed or wounded.

Among other keepsakes retained by grandson Bob Snelling, from Surrey, are a lace-embroidered postcard and a letter from Charles, who served in the City of London regiment, just prior to the start of combat at Passchendaele.

“When this small picnic is over we will have the old times back again making up for those months of separation,” he wrote, encouraging her to carry on as if he was home and not to dwell on the next day.

In the last postcard dated August 14, one day before he was killed in an assault on Glencorse Wood, Snelling wrote that he was well, and a that a letter would follow when he had the opportunity to write.

Alice learned through inquiries that he was missing, and, in October, that he died in the battle.

Edward Wooley, known as Ted, wrote to his sister requesting her to lie to a girl who had rejected him in a letter kept by his niece Ann Phillip, in Frome, Somerset. He asked his sister to tell that girl that he had found someone else.

Edward’s brothers survived the war, but he was killed on August 22, 1917.  His name appears on the memorial to the missing in Tyne Cot cemetery alongside 35,000 other names that, like him, have no known grave.

Devon resident, Louise Argent, has a touching last letter from her great-grandfather Private Albert Ford to his wife, Edith, the ‘best of wives,’ before he went over the top.  He encouraged her to think of him sometimes if he was killed, and mention him to the younger children occasionally, but to remarry if the opportunity presented itself.

His last thoughts while on the fire step or in the dugout went out to and were of her, he advised, the only woman he ever loved, the one who made a man of him.

Albert was killed on October 26, 1917.  Edith treasured the final letter.  She never remarried.

As she neared death in February 1956, she said she could see Albert in her bedroom corner.

First World War Minister Rob Wilson said the correspondence illustrated love could still survive even through the traumatic experiences of the Battle of Passchendaele, Herald Scotland reported.

He hopes the stories will encourage more people to investigate their past and enroll in the coming summer’s commemorations of an infamous battle.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE