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An Ulster Log: Bittersweet romance of soldier and his Irish love

By Eddie McIlwaine

Poignant love letters, straight from the heart that will bring a tear to your eye, have been turned into a turbulent wartime series that will be launched in an unmissable 30-minute documentary tomorrow at 12.30pm on BBC Radio Ulster.

And thereafter, the 137-part series will tell the compelling true story of the love affair between a young soldier on the frontline during the First World War and his Irish sweetheart back home.

The couple were English soldier Eric Appleby and his girl, Phyllis Kelly, separated by the war but still very much in love. The letters have been dramatised for radio by two young actors playing the roles of Eric and Phyllis, weaving together the voices of both the writer and the reader into self-contained short episodes which will be broadcast on weekdays (Monday to Friday) from Thursday, April 21 at 11.55am and again at 11.50pm up until the end of October.

In the series launch, Introducing Love Letters From The Front, narrator Maggie Cronin transports listeners to the world of Eric and Phyllis, as the programme brings together the cast and experts to discuss the remarkable context in which their memorable words were written, as the First World War raged and the Battle of the Somme lay ahead.

What makes it all even more poignant is the fact that contributions from Tom and Patrick Kelly, nephews of Phyllis, are included.

Eric Appleby from Liverpool was an engineering student who joined up at the start of the war in 1914, finding himself in Athlone training with the Royal Field Artillery. He met and fell for Phyllis, the daughter of a solicitor, at a dance.

The landmark radio series covers some 200 letters, field service postcards and telegrams outlining Eric's experiences from the time he left Athlone in March 1915 until October 1916 and what was to be the tail-end of the Somme offensive.

The letters, found on a top shelf of the Linen Hall Library in Belfast by producer Ian Dougan, reveal a unique, touching and often bittersweet story.

Belfast-born Roisin Gallagher plays Phyllis and fellow actor Ruairi Tohill, also from Belfast, is Eric Appleby.

Belfast Telegraph


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