“My Darling Zen” – Heartrending WWI Love Letters Auctioned Off

A series of 42 heartrending WWI love letters along with 15 autographed postcards written by one WWI soldier of the British Army to his fiancee were auctioned off last May 16 and were expected to fetch £500 to £800.

The love letters and postcards, found in an attic in a house in Hampshire, were written by Private Frederick Bertram Key. Private Key was assigned in the 1/8th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the First World War when he penned the love letters down. His beautiful fiancee, on the other hand, was named Zen Hall.

Private Key was part of the “Pals Battalions”, specially formed units which assured men that they would be able to serve alongside people they knew — friends, neighbors, relatives or work colleagues. These men enlisted in groups during local recruiting drives. On Private Key’s part, he had signed up with his friends as Dunlop – the company where he worked at that time – was one of the sponsors of the said host.

The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the same regiment Private Key served in.
The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the same regiment Private Key served in.

He wrote nine love letters to the fiancee he left behind while he underwent training in Essex from November 1914 to March 1915. The rest of the series of love letters the soldier jotted down along with the autographed postcards were from a front line “somewhere in France”. He still professed his love for the woman he loved back home while battling the Germans.

The love letters, at first, were written with a lighthearted voice. Private Key described to Zen his first experiences in the battle. He also outlined their lives together, his words tinge with surety that he would be able to come out of the war alive and well.

However the succeeding love letters he sent to his ladylove began to outline the depth ofthe conflicts and the horrors he saw in the front line. he also began to reassure Miss Hall that should he die, he would be with her in spirit. His love letters outlining his dream of living in the countryside with Miss Hall in a cottage were sprinkled with the abbreviation DV which stood for Deo volente, the Latin for “God willing”. And though he spoke about his hard times in the trenches in France and about his being a coward that every time the Germans shelled them, he had to fight the urge in himself to run to the nearest shelter, the tome of his words were still hopeful. He believed that he would be able to go home and marry the woman he loved.

Tragically, Private Key died when his battalion led the first offensive attacks against the enemies in Somme. He was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – July 1, 1916.

The love letters come along with a notebook believed to be the personal diary of Miss Zen Hall, the fiancee of Private Key and the one he was writing love letters to. There were also two sketches of a woman also believed to be her.

Notebook believed to be owned by Miss Zen Hall where she wrote the account of her beloved's death.
Notebook believed to be owned by Miss Zen Hall where she wrote the account of her beloved’s death.

On the notebook she wrote that “her darling” had been mortally wounded with a machine gun bullet from the 3rd German line on July 1st but she didn’t know about it until the 8th. The next entry dated July 10, 1916 said that a letter came informing her that “her darling” was killed and she had to go to Lichfield. She also added the note: “And that is the last time I shall see him on this earth”.

The heartrending love letters which witnessed one of the tragic love stories during the Great War were auctioned off by the Dominic Winter Auctions last May 16. The auction house’s senior valuer and auctioneer, Chris Albury, stated that the love letters were very poignant and heart-wrenching especially as it is known the soldier who penned them down died tragically during one of the largest Great War battles.

“It is a stark reminder of what people had to sacrifice during the First World War so we will be able to live the life we want here in Britain presently,” Albury pointed out in an interview with The Daily Mail.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE