In 1945, David Preston, who had been a Prisoner of War for almost all of the Second World War, wrote a letter to his future grandchildren. Press play below to hear the letter voiced by one of the museum team.
The transcript of the letter
This is your grandfather speaking, David Christopher Preston, born Trafalgar Day 1918, 21st October 1918, within 3 weeks of the end of the Great War, in which my father Ivor Kerrison Preston fought. So if you’re good at this sort of thing, you’ll be able to work out that when the second big war began on 3 September 1939, I was within 6 weeks of my 21st birthday. Nice sort of age at which to hit a war, wasn’t it? Born in one war (fought to end war) & reaching manhood at the very start of another. Well, you may wonder what your grandpa did during the 5 ½ years of war which consumed his early twenties; & I would like to tell you, not all what I did (which wasn’t really so much, because it was mostly things that happened to me which I couldn’t help) but I’d also like to tell you what I felt. I expect you know the history of the 39-45 war, probably better than I do – we soldiers know all about our own fighting but hardly anything else – but I’m wondering if you have any idea of what sort of chaps we were who fought the thing. It’s difficult for me to imagine us ever being thought old fashioned & out of date, but I suppose it will happen sure as fate; the thing I don’t want to happen is for you to imagine that we weren’t very human beings. I have been scared, I can tell you; I have chased the girls same as you; I’ve enjoyed my beer & known all about having too much; I’ve overslept in the mornings, same as you; I’ve sung in my bath, I’ve stuffed myself full of food & enjoyed it. Moreover, I’ve liked speed – but perhaps that’s just what dates me, speed is still rather new to my generation & not entirely taken for granted: still, if you’ve ever done any fast skiing, I don’t expect you’ve been utterly bored. So, whatever I turn out like later (& I’m afraid I’ll be an old dodderer by the time I meet you), I’d like you to remember that I’m young as I write, 26 in fact, & that’s a great link, isn’t it?
It’s this particular letter we have chosen to include here, but the collection of his personal archive, donated to us by his son in 2022 includes a huge range of material.
Before the war David Preston had been on a skiing holiday to Austria. On his way back, the train that he was travelling on stopped in Nuremberg. Out of curiosity, he attended a huge Nazi rally and actually heard Hitler speaking and from that point began loathe Nazi ideology. He was studying at Oxford University and when the war started but immediately joined up. In 1939, he was posted to the Green Howards directly from Sandhurst and then very quickly to France. David’s parents sent him a writing case in March 1940 which he kept with him during the fighting up until his capture in May 1940. He became separated from his belongings and the case but it somehow made it back to England via Dunkirk. His parents gave it back to him when he was repatriated in 1945. He was a prolific writer, particularly while a PoW. He kept all his letters and diaries, often adding footnotes and annotations at a later date. He was incredibly creative, taking art history classes and peppering his diaries with poetry and creative writing.
David was captured on the 22 May 1940 near Arras and became a prisoner of war in Germany. During his long years of captivity, he learned that his elder brother had been killed in Tobruk. He realised he would have to be the next generation in the family firm of solicitors. He began to study law with books supplied by the Red Cross and sat his initial Law Society exams while still a prisoner. He ended the war at a camp in Poland, flew back to England in a Lancaster bomber, and spent a few months at a ‘demob camp’ in Wiltshire.
David returned to civilian life and eventually became head of Preston and Redman Solicitors in Bournemouth. He went on to have children and grandchildren with his wife Gillian and died, aged 95 in Brockenhurst, Hampshire.
We don’t know if they ever read the letter he had so carefully composed for them many years earlier, back at the end of the Second World War.