This is one of my favourite love letters from the First World War. Its author is one George Hayman, a private in the Lancashire Fusiliers, and he wrote it to his wife shortly before he left for France in June 1916.
The letter, as you can see, is written in the shape of a kiss and also contains drawings George made himself of his young family. In one part he writes “I only wish I could be home with you, still never mind this war will soon be over now. Then we will have a jolly good time” and he signs off “from your loving boy, George xxxx”. The innocence and obvious adoration George felt for his wife and their child is so lovely – making it all the more heartbreaking that George died in combat two months later.
The romantic in me loves this letter for all the obvious reasons, but I think I love it all the more because it wasn’t written by a well-educated, middle- and upper-class man. In fact, love letters written by rank and file soldiers in the Great War were usually far more soppy and demonstrative than those of their social superiors – officers such as Rowland Fielding and Wilfred Owen both described the ‘numerous children’s kisses’ scrawled at the bottom of their men’s letters. In contrast, these middle- and upper-class officers were far more restrained when writing to their sweethearts, as their collective upbringing and social standing made them far more conscious to exercise the emotional control expected of British gentlemen.
Give me a ranker’s love letter any day.