A Letter to the Front

A letter to the front 1918

War is without doubt a terrible thing. It leaves nothing but death, fear and destruction in its wake. So imagine you are a young soldier in 1918 and for the past year you’ve had to sit out the so called ‘Great War’ in a prisoner of war camp. Then comes the news that the armistice has been signed and hostilities have ended. You will soon be free to return to your home: to your family. Thousands found themselves in just this position at the end of the 1914-18 world war. It was at this time that the King, His Majesty King George fifth, sat down at his desk to write a letter which was specifically targeted at this particular returning band of hero’s. “The Queen joins me in welcoming you on your release from the miseries and hardships which you have endured with so much patience and courage. During these many months of trial, the early rescue of our gallant officers and men from the cruelties of their captivity has been uppermost in our thoughts. We are thankful that this longed for day has arrived and that back in the old country you will be able once more to enjoy the happiness of a home and to see good days among those who anxiously look for your return”. The letter bares the Royal crest with the words Buckingham Palace both beautifully embossed. The King has dated the letter simply 1918 and signs it at the bottom ‘George R.I’. Its worth remembering too that this was a time when performing ones duty on the front line was in the name of God, King and Country – in that order. It was expected that one would deliberately put ones life in harms way without question and with whatever equipment was available. On ones return to Britain after the war there would be no counselling services for trauma, shell-shock or any number of consequential mental disturbances. One was expected to be grateful that the war had been won and that civilisation had been protected. The word compensation was rarely used or heard. The demobilised soldier was simply expected to make the best of ‘a bad lot’ and carry on with any life they may have left. With so little to show for ones survival from one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever known, apart from standard issue medals, dead or alive, the arrival of a letter from your King would have been seen as a great honour. A thing to be cherished. Indeed, some of these letters which were individually sent to the ex prisoners of war are exhibited in museums as original, perhaps donated by proud families long after the death of the recipient. Many of these men died still believing that the letter had been written to them personally, and who could blame them. The quality of their reproduction for 1918 is astounding, and has obviously convinced many an institution- museum into thinking likewise. I know, because I have one.

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