It’s Only Words…

It would seem that the art of letter writing is a thing of the past. Penmanship is no longer taught in schools. Everyone can key information into their computer or text their friends from their smart phone, but no one seems to write letters any more. In my teens I had a number of penpals in England and Japan. What a thrill it was to receive a letter from another country, to examine its stamp and postmark, to marvel at its long journey to my mailbox and then to read the news from friends far away. How sad that those days are gone. Examples of handwriting, so personal, so unique, are rare now. In my possession are two treasured letters. One of them, written in pencil, is a birthday message to my mother from her dear brother Alex who was serving in the Royal Navy and not able to be home to celebrate with her. It was 1917 and my mother was ten years old. Alex wrote:

September 1917

Seaman J.A. Wood
26 Mess

My Dear Sister,

Here is a card I’m sending for your birthday. I’ve had it in my ditty box for nearly a month. I think the canteen get them by chance, as they are an out of the way thing for them to have, so I took my opportunity and got you one. I will have to get you something else when I get leave but this little card will let you see I remembered your birfday, won’t it? My word, you will be getting a big girl now. Let’s see, how old are you this birthday? Ten, isn’t it? I would just like to be home with you on your birthday. I bet your mother is getting you a nice cake, eh? You will have to write and let me know what your da and ma have given you as a present. I bet you have your fancy set on something nice, eh? How are you getting on at school now? I can just imagine you walking up Heaton Road with the other little girls, or at least I should say, big girls now! Do you remember that day I followed you on my bike? You were walking fast that day, I don’t think! Just fancy, when I am done with the Navy, you will be 14. You will be a big girl then. Well pet, I think that is all at present.

Wishing you very many happy returns of your birthday, I remain,

Your loving Bruvver,


On August 2, 1918, less than a year later, Alex was lost at sea when the destroyer on which he served, H.M.S. Ariel, struck a mine in the North Sea. His body was never recovered. My mother kept this precious letter for her entire life. To touch this fragile letter, to see his handwriting, to read his words and feel his obvious affection for his little sister, is to know Alex a little better, to keep alive the memory of my uncle, a young man that I never knew who died too soon. Every time I look at his letter, I think of Alex and remember how much my mother loved him. A small piece of paper, a few handwritten words, a special souvenir that brings the past to life.

The photograph above shows Alex with his mother, my grandmother Martha.

In my next post, I’ll write about the second letter.

Copyright 2013 Anne Corke

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