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Frontline letters released by Royal Mail to mark the Somme's centenary

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 15/11/2016

The letter from Colonel Campbell
The letter from Colonel Campbell

Three letters released by Royal Mail have revealed what life was like during the Battle of the Somme, both on the battlefield and off.

Royal Mail launched the correspondence in commemoration of the centenary of the end of the World War One battle, one of the bloodiest in human history.

The letters were submitted by people from around the UK as part of Royal Mail's Letters of Our Lives project.

The first, a note from Colonel John Vaughn Campbell on September 16, 1916, was written the day after he took command of his battalion when they were under fire from German machine guns.

The note was transported via pigeon in a tiny aluminium cylinder to two lofts at Brigade Headquarters.

He wrote: "Infantry in attack made against Geudecourt (sic) on our left have apparently been checked. Some have withdrawn" - a reference to the British offensive at Gueudecourt.

He also requested information about the Guards Brigade and asked for material to help restore his defences.

The note is signed "John Campbell", from the "3 CG" (the 3rd Coldstream Guards), and was submitted to Royal Mail by Norman Watson from Perth.

Col Campbell won the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest honour, for his bravery.

The second letter was written by Private Joe Pearce, a member of the 5th Company, 3rd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, on October 29, 1916.

The 24-year-old wrote about life on the battlefield, like the "rotten" weather and being "amongst some good lads". His letter is cheerful, even when he mentions "taking as much cover as possible as old Fritz was sending over a few Whiz Bangs".

Pte Pearce's correspondence was submitted to Royal Mail by his nephew, Christopher Vellenoweth from Wirral.

Tragically, Pte Pearce was killed in action on November 18, the last day of the battle. He is buried in Stump Road Cemetery, Grandcourt, and was awarded the British Star and Victory medal.

The third letter was submitted by Sarah Green from Wales and was written by her great-grandmother, Nellie, to her husband, John 'Jack' Coupe, who was away fighting.

Nellie wrote of giving up work due to ill health, and dwindling rations, and said she was looking forward to him coming home for leave. She wrote that she hoped to see him at Easter, but unfortunately John was killed at the Somme five days before the holiday and was buried in Harbonnieres at the war cemetery.

The Letters of Our Lives project invited people to submit letters marking important moments in their family history.

David Gold, head of public affairs at Royal Mail, said: "We have received thousands of letters so far and a large number of those were written during wartime. Letters and parcels became a vital communication channel between those at home and those stationed abroad.

"On average, 12 million letters and a million parcels were processed a week at an enormous wooden temporary sorting office in Regent's Park."

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