Chances are if you’ve ever Googled “last letters WW1”, you will have come across this very touching epistle written by Lance Corporal Frederick Swannell to his wife before the Battles of Arras in 1917.
Several stories of this last letter appeared in the press around the time of the 2014 centenary, but it is most definitely worth recounting here. Like so much correspondence from the front, it’s obvious that this is a letter written by a man burdened to breaking point by the conditions he is facing.
Fred Swannell was killed aged 35, during a battle which was claiming an average daily casualty rate of 4076. He left behind his beloved wife Ellen and 5 young children. When Ellen died aged 98 in 1984, his letter was discovered tucked into her handbag. She had kept this most precious document with her for over 60 years. A photocopy was taken by her daughters before the original was buried with her.
L/Cpl F Swannell
13th Essex Regiment
B E F France
My Dear Darling Nell
I am writing these lines hoping to find you and all our dear little ones in the very best of health. I am very sorry to know that you have not been getting much news from me but love I write to you all I can at present the conditions we are now in we do not get much chance of writing any letters.
Well love my foot is progressing very slowly but lately I have been very bad in health for the conditions I have had to go through out here is gradually telling upon my constitution for I reckon I have stood it well up till now but I feel as I am getting beaten.
Oh love how I wish that this terrible anxiety and suspense was over for I do long to be with you and our dear little ones who are continually in my mind it is as you state in your letter it is a shame we should be parted for such a long time and I have done over my bit as you know but it seems no matter how long or what you have been through out here they are never done with you.
The men we have got with us now have only been out here two months and they have done nothing or been through anything yet but they are continually grousing and fed up with it. They have been forced to join the army so you can guess what they are like.
Well love let us put the troubles aside and hope for a peaceable time for us both and all for if I am lucky enough to get through it alright I hope to have a happy and loving life with you and our dear little ones for you know I love you and I always will and I know you do me for you have proved it with my little ones.
Well love this is all at present with my very best love to you and my little ones.
I am you ever loving husband Fred Swannell.
Kisses for you love and my little ones.
Love you all
This letter was written in mid-April 1917. Fred was declared missing, presumably killed, in action on 28th April 1917.
This blog post first appeared on lorajones.com