Dearest Aileen Darling Johnny
Letters from serving soldiers were subject to censorship to ensure that military information didn’t fall into enemy hands and, also, to maintain the morale of the folks back home. The letter from John Wilson to his wife, Aileen, has such potentially sensitive and upsetting matters scored out. In reality, the censored words would be sufficiently obliterated so that Aileen would have no idea what was written. John could have used a “green envelope” or “honesty envelope” for his letter. He would have had to certify, on his honour, that the envelope only contained private and personal matters, but even these were subject to scrutiny, however. Soldiers also had access to Field Service Postcards which were pre-printed with a series of options that could be deleted as appropriate.
Perhaps John’s letter should be read twice: first, in its entirety and then in its censored version so that you’ll read what Aileen did.
My Dearest Aileen,
I have just received the letter you wrote last month. I think there must have been a hold-up with the post as nobody in my company has received letters since the beginning of November. I look forward eagerly to your letters, even when, as you say, you have nothing to tell me. It brings us closer and it also tells me that there is a normal sane world away from here. I hope there are more letters from you in, what must be, a backlog of mail.
What wonderful news!! Baby Keith has arrived at last and I’m a Dad for the first time. How are you, my dear? How is our little son doing? How old is he now? It must be six weeks at least. Did everything go alright? I’m so glad that your mum has come down to be with you. What an incredible Christmas present for us! I can’t wait to get home to see our little son. I wonder when that will be.
How was your Christmas? Did you go to Scotland or did your dad come down to be with you and your mum, and baby Keith, of course? I suppose you would have stayed at home as it would have been a long journey for you and the baby as well as being quite expensive. But you will be getting an extra 5/- a week now you’ve an extra mouth to feed!
Our Christmas here was very much like every other day. The food was the same, though Captain Harris had some bottles of whisky and we all got a tot. It made me think of your dad and how much he likes his “wee dram” (or three!).
I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to write a proper letter for so long. However, you have always been in my thoughts and I take out and kiss your photograph every day. Please send a picture of our baby son when you can. I’d love to see him. Who does he take after? You or me or a bit of both?
It has been jolly hectic here these past couple of months (which is why I’ve not been able to write). When I last wrote in October, we were on the move from the front by the river Aisne up to Ypres (though most of the lads call it “Wipers”). We were there for nearly a month. There was a lot of toing and froing, but in the end neither us nor the Boche gained an inch. I’ll spare you the details. We couldn’t have gone on much longer as we sorely needed reinforcements. But please don’t worry yourself about me. I am feeling well, except for a bit of a cold, which is not surprising given that the weather’s turned cold and wet.
We’re not at Wipers anymore. We’ve been transferred and I’m back close to where I was before going to Wipers at a little town called Givenchy. The Boche tried to break through our lines just before Christmas but we managed to push them back. It was rather Hellish for a few days. Especially for the Indians, the poor devils. To tell the truth, Hell would have been preferable as it would have been warmer and drier! It hasn’t stopped raining for weeks, it seems, and we’re often up to our knees in mud and water. Out there the shell craters are full of water. I’ve heard that some men have actually drowned in them. Horrible.
By the way, when we were going to Wipers (on a London omnibus of all things!) I fell in with a lad from one of the Highland regiments. And he lives in Lawrie Street, would you believe it, not far from your mum and dad in Dowanhill Street. His name’s Malcolm Soutar. I don’t think you’ll know him because you’d have left Partick before he moved there. What’s even more astonishing is that he worked for Mackie’s and worked with your dad, there. What a small world! I’ve no idea what happened to him (maybe your dad could find out) because his company was sent to a different area. I hope he came through it, because I heard that the Highland boys took a real battering by all accounts.
It was very strange here at Christmas. It was very quiet. There had been no fighting or shooting for a few days. You could have heard a pin drop on Christmas Day. We heard church bells in the distance. Then, during the afternoon, the Boche started to sing carols. Their trenches are only a hundred yards or so from ours and we could hear them clearly. We sang in return and then some of them came over the top and called “Happy Christmas” to us in English. Some of our men wanted to do the same but our sergeant ordered us to stay in the trench. But some of us stood up and waved at the Boche and greeted them. A few of us who knew German wished them “Happy Christmas” in their own language. It moved me very much and gave me hope that this war will be over very soon. It made me realise that we’re all the same, want the same things, have wives, sweethearts, children that we would rather be with. We even worship the same God. So why are we here? All I wanted then, as I do now, is to be back home with you, my darling, and baby Keith, of course.
The post is going soon, so I’ll have to finish now. All my love to you, my dear Aileen. Give my love to your mum and dad (if he’s still with you) and, last but by no means least, a big hug and kiss to our son from his loving dad!
From your ever-loving husband,
P.S. Happy New Year (I sincerely hope so) to all your folk and I hope you have/had a merry Hogmanay.
P.P.S. Could you, or maybe your mum, get me a pair or two of thick socks? You can’t have enough of them here. It’s so wet, the more you have the more chance you have to get a pair dried out before putting them on. I’m sure you can get some at Allders or Kennards.
My Darling Johnny.
It was so wonderful to get your lovely letter last Thursday. Don’t worry, my love, if you can’t write frequently. I understand. The Field Postcards you send are enough to let me know you are safe. I have no idea what’s been happening to you because your letters are always censored. All I know is that you have been in Ypres but aren’t there anymore. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to see that you’ve written so much more to me but some officer has scored it out.
I hope your cold is getting better. I wish you were here so I could nurse you properly. I’d make sure you were warm and comfortable with lots of hugs and warm whisky! I do love you, my Johnny, and miss you so much. I’m longing for and praying that this terrible war is over soon and you can be back with me and your baby son.
Little Keith is a treasure. He’s not been much trouble at all. I wish you could see him. He’s so handsome (just like his daddy!). He has your eyes and mouth and luckily doesn’t have my sticking-out ears and snubby nose. He did have a bit of a wheezy cough some weeks ago, but Dr. Stockley said it wasn’t serious and it would soon pass. Which it did.
Yesterday I went to Allders and made an appointment to have some photographs taken. I also got these socks for you. I hope you like them and they keep your tootsies warm and snug. Mum has started to knit you a pair, too.
Dad came here for Christmas. It would have been too much for the baby to travel all that way and it would have cost a lot, too. Angus and Kate stayed at home. We got dad his favourite single malt (he’s so easy to buy for!). Mum and dad bought me a gorgeous blouse and Angus and Kate gave me a beautiful woollen shawl (in the MacDonald tartan, of course). Baby Keith got lots of clothes and toys from his grandparents and aunt and uncle. He enjoyed his first Christmas even though he slept through a lot of it! We had roast beef for dinner, with roast potatoes and all the rest. Mum managed to make a pudding which was delicious with her home-made brandy butter. But all the time, my dear husband, there was this dark pit in my stomach. I was so aware that you were so far away and I had no way of knowing how you were. I’m sorry, my darling, I probably shouldn’t be telling you all this seeing that you had such a meagre Christmas dinner. Still, it was good of Captain Harris to give you all a “wee dram”.
There were rumours here that the British and German soldiers fraternised on Christmas Day. Did that actually happen? Did you witness it? Maybe you were telling me in your letter. You were describing your Christmas Day in your letter but a lot got crossed out.
Dad went back to Partick last week. He couldn’t get any more time off work to stay till Hogmanay. It was just me and mum (and little Keith, of course) for Hogmanay. We didn’t really feel like celebrating because you weren’t here. We just had a little nip of brandy each and drank to a happy and peaceful 1915. We wished you love and protection and prayed that you will be home soon.
I mentioned Malcolm Soutar to Dad. He knew him but the sad news is that he was blinded by an exploding shell and also lost an arm. So awful for him and his mum and dad. When will this terrible war end? Mr. and Mrs. Fisher’s son, George, has joined the navy. He’s still in training and not seen active service yet.
I don’t want to burden you with more worry, dear Johnny, but there is something I need to talk to you about. Mum is going back home tomorrow. She’s been such a help and support since Keith was born (is it really ten weeks ago this Wednesday!). It’s this that’s bothering me. I know I’ll be getting an extra allowance from the Army but will it be enough to pay the rent and feed and clothe the baby? And if he gets ill again, there’ll be medicines to pay for. So I’m thinking I might go back and live with mum and dad. Mum’ll be overjoyed to look after “the bairn” (that what she always calls Keith) and there’s plenty of work in the munitions factories up there. It’s just an idea. I’ll give it a go here, at first, and see how I cope. What do you think? I won’t do anything without your blessing.
I must go now, my love, and get this parcel off to you this afternoon. Mum and dad and Angus and Kate all send their love and are thinking of you and praying for you. I think about you all the time, dearest husband, except when I’m tending to our baby and then I think about you both! I long to see you holding him. We are being brave for your sake, my darling. Look after yourself and take care.
All my love and big kisses from me and our baby.
Your loving and devoted wife,