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British Tommies' letters from Trenches of WWI are revealed

From pleas for food and supplies… to haunting last goodbyes: British Tommies’ heartfelt letters home from the Trenches of WWI are revealed for first time

  • Written by British soldiers during 1914-18 conflict, letters feature in book by historian Jacqueline Wadsworth
  • Among the letters is one by Second Lieutenant Charles Alderton, from Clerkenwell, London
  • He tells his family that he has been called to make the ‘greatest sacrifice’ and urges them not to grieve
  • Devoted father Private Philip Luxton wrote to his ‘darling wife’ in June 1915 to tell her how much he missed her
  • Private Tom Fake told his wife that the cake and biscuits she had sent had turned into ‘a lot of crumbs’ 

Ranging from heartrending goodbyes to pleas for food and sweet treats from home, these letters reveal the horror and appalling conditions of the Trenches in the First World War.

Written by British soldiers during the 1914-18 conflict, the previously unpublished communications, as well as images of the men who wrote them, feature in Letters From The Trenches – The First World War By Those Who Were There, by historian Jacqueline Wadsworth, which is published by Pen & Sword.

Among the letters is one by Second Lieutenant Charles Alderton, from Clerkenwell, London, who wrote to his mother, father and sisters in March 1917 to tell them that he had been called to make the ‘greatest sacrifice’.

After urging them not to grieve or ‘show any signs of loss’, he attempted to lift their spirits by adding that they could ‘rest assured’ that ‘up to the very last’ he was ‘always cheerful’.

Although he went on to survive a further eight months, Second Lieutenant Alderton was killed leading his men at the Battle of Cambrai, in northern France, aged 21.

Private Philip Luxton, a devoted father, wrote to his ‘darling wife’ in June 1915 to tell her that he couldn’t ‘put you and the children out of my sight’.

He movingly added: ‘I wish with all my heart that this terrible war was over’. Private Luxton was killed by machine gun fire that same year and his body was never found.

Another letter, written by Private Tom Fake, revealed how the men struggled with their monotonous army rations, and instead asked for comfort food to be sent from home. 

The soldier told his wife that the ‘cake and biscuits’ he had sent her had turned into ‘a lot of crumbs’, whilst the ‘chocolate was crushed’ and the ‘French nougat was like some sausages had been stepped on’.     


New book Letters From The Trenches – The First World War By Those Who Were There, by historian Jacqueline Wadsworth, reveals the words which British soldiers sent home from the trenches during the First World War. Above: Among the letters is one by Second Lieutenant Charles Alderton, from Clerkenwell, London, who wrote to his mother, father and sisters in March 1917 to tell them that he had been called to make the ‘greatest sacrifice’

Ms Wadsworth tells in her book how, much like thousands of other young men, Second Lieutenant Alderton ‘couldn’t wait’ to get to the Front and experience the fighting.

But, in writing to his family on March 6, Second Lieutenant Alderton clearly believed that his life was going to come to an end very soon. 

He said: ‘By the time you read this I shall have been called to make with many others the greatest sacrifice of all and my last long leave will have been taken.

‘I don’t want you to grieve or show any signs of loss, I have only done what many others have already done.

‘My one earnest desire is that this war may end successful to the British Troops for the safety and welfare of the happy home I have left behind me and I hope that never again may the homes of England be split asunder.

‘I can never tell you how thankful I am for the happy home and the comforts I have received from you all … You can rest assured that even up to the very last Charlie was always cheerful.

‘I know it will be hard but be as cheerful over this parting as possible, and then set out to find a home where perhaps the very bread earner has been called away and be a comfort and help to them.


Private Philip Luxton, a devoted father, wrote to his ‘darling wife’ in June 1915 to tell her that he couldn’t ‘put you and the children out of my sight’. He movingly added: ‘I wish with all my heart that this terrible war was over’. Private Luxton was killed by machine gun fire that same year and his body was never found

‘With love to all and do not grieve, Charlie.’

Second Lieutenant Alderton was then killed while leading his men in an advance behind tanks, which were being used in significant numbers for the first time.

In early December, a few weeks after his family were informed of his death, a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps wrote to his parents and movingly described their son’s final moments.

Soldier Arthur Youell asked for flea killer

‘Two stretcher bearers of ‘C’ company carried your son back … One of them Pte Easton told me that Mr Alderton had no pain, was very quiet and complained only of his hands being cold.

‘The bearers lowered the stretcher several times to rub his hands. So far as I can gather he said nothing further.

‘The names of the bearers are Pte Alex Easton C Coy and Pte H Murray C Coy both very good men.

‘Your son was a magnificent soldier, eager to a fault. Personally I was proud of his friendship, and am very sorry for you all.

‘I can imagine a little how much you will miss his cheery, genial presence. He died that others might be saved.

‘You will always have this sad but comforting thought this dreary Xmastide.’

Private Luxton wrote several times to his wife Hannah from the trenches in France. In words which gave a hint of the conditions the men were living in, he told her: ‘I should like if you could see me now for you would never forget it.

‘We are like rabbits buried in holes in the ground, me and Fry is in one for ourselves for they will only hold 2 or 3 men and we must not come out from there in daylight for fear of being shelled.’

Other letters betrayed the love he felt for his wife. He said in one that, even though he was away from her, ‘my love is not getting colder’.

He added: ‘…when I returns to you I hope I will prove it because no man loves his wife and children better than I do.’


Also revealed is a diary entry, written by soldier Archibald Dunn in July 1919, which highlights how men became desensitised to the horrors of war. He described the shocking sight of four men being ‘blown sky high’, before simply saying in the next sentence that he ‘bathed in the evening’. Pictured: Dunn is seen left before he departed for northern Russia and right wearing his infantryman’s helmet

He finished the letter by saying: ‘I wish I was home to have one real kiss with my old Dutch from one that loves you from the bottom of my heart.’

Then, in June 1915, he wrote again to Hannah. He said: ‘There are many nights that I can’t put you and the children out of my sight, even if you are miles away from me I can see you all in life and I wish with all my heart that this terrible war was over.

‘For I find it very lonely now that I have lost my chum, for he was a good old sort in his way, for it cut me up awful when I heard he was killed.’

However, in the autumn of that year, Hannah was told in a what Ms Wadsworth describes as a ‘brutal’ letter from the Army Pay Office that her husband had likely been killed and that he would not be home in time for Christmas.

The letter said: ‘I regret to state that information has reached this office that Pte P Luxton of the Welsh Regiment has been reported missing.

Soldier William Cole, who was part of the original British Expeditionary Force, used to send his children embroidered cards. He is pictured above with his wife Rosie and their children William Sidney (known as Sid), Rosie (right) and Ivy

One card send by Cole to his son depicted a grey aeroplane being flown by a British pilot, as a French soldier trailed brightly coloured holly through the sky. On the back, it read: ‘Best Love and Kisses to my Dead Siddy from Daddy’

‘The separation allowance and allotment of pay now being issued to you will continue to be issuable to you for a period of 30 weeks.’

Although the date of his death is not noted by Ms Wadsworth, she tells how Private Luxton was killed by machine gun fire before an exploding shell buried his body, which was never found.

The letters of Canadian medical officer Harold McGill – who served in the 5th Canadian Field Ambulance Corps – to his love interest Emma Griffis also feature in Ms Wadsworth’s book.

Writing from the Western Front on October 1, 1916, McGill described the horrific injuries which some men suffered.

He wrote: ‘My stretcher bearer sergeant, the finest little fellow in the battalion, had his leg torn off by a shell and died of wounds in the F.Ambulance [field ambulance] dressing station. I saw him after he was hit.

Letters From The Trenches – The First World War By Those Who Were There, by historian Jacqueline Wadsworth, is published by Pen & Sword

‘He bid me good bye saying he had tried to do his work and was sorry he was not able to carry on to the end.

‘It made me feel like a baby to hear him talk like that and I could very easily have made a fool of myself.

‘He was the last one left of the stretcher bearers I brought from Calgary and was known and loved throughout the battalion.’

However, his subsequent letters revealed the burgeoning romance between him and Ms Griffis, who was in England.

In July 1917, after she had agreed to marry him, he told her: ‘The knowledge that you love me is very sweet and before long I hope we may be able to begin our lives afresh together.

‘In the meantime we must both ‘Carry on’.’

Later in the letter, he added: ‘Can you tell me what size of a ring you will wear for me? I wish to send you one as soon as possible.

‘When I next get leave I shall ask for a month and we can be quietly married and spend it together.’

McGill survived the war and, when he was on leave in December 1917, he and Ms Griffis married in England.

After the war, they returned to Canada and had two daughters before going on to spend the rest of their lives together. 

Another letter, written by soldier Arthur Youell revealed the extent of the notoriously poor sanitary conditions in the trenches.

Youell wrote to his mother to ask her to ‘please send some more flea killer’ so that he could get rid of ‘these ‘disturbers of the peace’.

Also revealed is a diary entry, written by soldier Archibald Dunn in July 1919, which highlights how men became desensitised to the horrors of war.   

He described the shocking sight of four men being ‘blown sky high’, before simply saying in the next sentence that he ‘bathed in the evening’.

Letters From The Trenches – The First World War By Those Who Were There, was published in paperback on November 8. 

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