Some time in 1915, a British Tommy by the name of Charley Tame sat down in the British Expeditionary Force headquarters near Ypres, and penned a letter to his sister.
It provides an extraordinary, vivid account of one of the most horrific battlefields in the First World War: all couched in language that is at once both affectionate and diffident, in the way only British people of the time could manage.
“My darling Hilly,” he wrote. “This is my private letter home. I therefore intend to tell you everything concerning this Great War and myself…I am sorry to tell you two officers have been killed (Stone and Dathow), two officers wounded… 250 men killed, wounded and missing.
“Thanks to you for your good prayers. I am unhurt, the chap next to me had the back of his head blown off, and the fellow next but one was shot through the right lung. Seven of our transport horses were killed, three were blown to atoms…Ypres is absolutely in ruins, churches, mansions, convents, monasteries and streets of homes are no more, all are in piles of brick and the once beautiful town, the capital of the region, has been destroyed by German artillery fire…”
He signs off by saying “Well now, my darling old girl, I think I must draw to a close… your affectionate old brother, Charley.”
This extraordinary letter, only a small part of which has been reproduced here, is one of tens of thousands of letters from British and Commonwealth troops serving on the front line in conflicts from the First World War right through to the ongoing war in Afghanistan that historian Andrew Roberts found deep in the archives of the Imperial War Museum.
Many are reproduced, in part or in full, in Love, Tommy.
The result is a book which provides a unique glimpse – sometimes moving, sometimes funny, sometimes full of horror or longing, often quite diffident or matter-of-fact – into the lives of soldiers at war.
With Remembrance Sunday falling tomorrow, this book is the perfect excuse to never forget.
Love, Tommy: Letters Home, from the Great War to the Present Day, by Andrew Roberts in association with the Imperial War Museum, retails at £20