Personal letters with a military connection are always fascinating items to add to a collection as they offer an immediate and tangible link to history. Letter writing was essential in the days before widespread use of the telephone for long distance and international calls. The postal service in Edwardian England had multiple pickups and deliveries a day so postcards and letters could act as a cheap form of quick communication, sometimes being used almost as we would use emails and text messages today. Longer form letters were also sent regularly, with more space for news, and mail calls were always popular times for servicemen. Today we are looking at an interesting letter sent from a sailor serving on the pre-Dreadnought battleship HMS King Edward VII. The letter is in a small envelope and this is addressed to a lady on the Isle of Wight:
The postmark on the back of the envelope indicates that the letter was sent in October 1909:
The letter is written on notepaper bearing the name of the ship and runs for four pages:
The letter is written to the sailor’s mother and reads:
Have just received your letter you sent to May for me. I hope this will find you bearing up as well as can be expected and I sincerely hope you will keep in the very best of health. Hope the children are all keeping well.
I can’t express how sorry I am to hear the sad news. I only wish we were in England instead of Scotland so that I might try and comfort and help you as best I could.
But cheer up my dear Mum and remember that you have done all that could be done for poor Uncle Max and that there is no one can dare say a word that you haven’t although he was not at home. How I wish I could have seen him once again. How I wish I could have gone once or twice when you went to see him.
I do wish I could say just a word to cheer you but am afraid my nature is too rough but I mean it as much and more sincerely than a good many who are offering you condolences just now. I hope Uncle Will and Clara are able to help you with everything and cheer you, which I feel sure they will try to do.
So now you poor dear mum just cheer up and try and look for the bright side which must come some time.
We are having awful weather up here rain and wind almost every day. Have just had to put back into Cromarty through stress of weather otherwise I shouldn’t have received your letter until Friday.
We leave for Portland 31st of Oct and Portsmouth some time about middle of Sept When I hope to come to see you first opportunity.
We shall be in Portsmouth for a few months refitting when we do get in so shall have plenty of time to see you all.
Poor little Elsie has been having a rough time but I think she is slowly getting a bit stronger now. The Dr said she was to have a change of air at one so May is taking her to Lewes on Saturday for a few weeks she tells me.
You must drop me a few lines when everything is quiet and let me know how everything went off. So now dear must close with fondest love from may and myself hoping you will write soon. Remember us to Will and Clara and poor hone Son and Laurie tell them he still thinks of them and wishes he could be with them to help them cheer mum up. So always remaining yours very affectionately Alf xxx
The letter is very domestic in tone and in many ways this is what one would expect. A sailor away from home would be more interested in what was happening to his family and offering words of comfort to his mother than giving details of what he had been up to at sea day in and day out- whilst fascinating to us, this would have been the daily routine to him and little worthy of note in a letter. The lifeline of letters in keeping a family together over many hundreds of miles comes across in this letter very clearly, together with the realisation that peoples worries and concerns a century ago were little different to out own.