One of our new volunteers, Paul Elliott was struck by a simple piece of verse as he looked round the museum. It got him thinking about the importance of communication with home, and the use of poetry to send messages to loved ones.
“As a very recent volunteer at the museum it is very easy to be seduced by the many glamorous and exotic items on display. I was however immediately taken by a small display from the Boer War under the title ‘ Literacy’. This constitutes 3 items from about 1900. The item I have chosen is a self made Christmas card by a Lance Corporal Smith and sent to his sister. It is made from an old piece of khaki uniform and has a simple graphic layout and a personal verse as a Christmas greeting.
Good luck and prosperity to you he sends
A soldier who is not with the best of friends
One piece of khaki from an old coat he’d worn
Discarded because it was tattered and torn
It’s not a gilt edged or highly priced card
But it carries best wishers and kindest regards
After the Education Act of 1870, adult literacy improved from a level of only 63% in 1841 to a figure of 92% in 1900. This meant that for the first time ordinary soldiers were able to write home and to receive letters. Today less than 1% of adults are completely illiterate but 5% have literary levels below those expected of an 11 year old.
The 1st World War saw mass communication to and from all theatres of war with 12 million letters being sent to serving men each week, a huge logistical exercise. This communication with home was perhaps the main interest of soldiers at the front as is demonstrated by diaries detailing their lives. The use of verse in letters was very popular. In some areas, especially South Wales, soldier’s verse was published in the local press and reached huge audiences. They largely displayed little or no literary merit but probably reached a much larger audience than that achieved by Owen or Sassoon.
Due to starting at the museum I looked at more of the military history of my own family and found a verse sent by my grandfather, Edwin Scriminger, to his wife Edith during the 1st World War. Edwin survived being shot through the lung, and lived to the fine age of 81.”
Memories of Home
We shall not always dwell as now we dwell
For some of us our lives may not go well
Gainst such small perils courage will be proof
Gainst stronger ills these memories may be proof
To some of us this life may say farewell
What though we dwell not then as now we dwell
Hearts can recover Hearts when Hearts are fain
While love stays with us everything is well
The roof of love is proof against the rain
Love will abide when all have said farewell
Our Hearts may ever dwell as now they Dwell.
From Edwin, France Nov 5th 1916