Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If you are reading this...

The flip side of war, long before the medals, welcoming home parades and the life time of memories is the tragic human cost. Warriors die, their families devastated forever. Beyond the machismo and bravado, along the gnawing awareness of the closeness of death, soldiers on the battlefield do let their softer sides pop out on occasion, especially while writing their "final" letters home.

If You're Reading This by Sian Price is a collection of letters written by soldiers on the world's front lines including warriors at Waterloo, kamikaze pilots, US Civil War, Ypres to Afghanistan. The letters will break your heart. From the Telegraph:

Guardsman Neil ‘Tony’ Downes, age 20. Died: Afghanistan, 2007.

He wrote to his girlfriend Jane: ‘Hey beautiful! I’m sorry I had to put you through all this, darling. I’m truly sorry.

‘Just thought I’ll leave you with a last few words.

‘All I wanna say is how much I loved you and cared for you. You are the apple of my eye and I will be watching over you always.

‘Bet my bloody lottery numbers will come up, ha ha!

‘Jane, I hope you have a wonderful and fulfilling life. Get married, have children etc.

‘I will love you forever and will see you again when you are old and wrinkly!

‘I have told my parents to leave you some money out of my insurance, so have fun babe

‘OK... gonna go now beautiful. Love you forever.’

He also wrote a note to his parents: ‘Well I guess by now you have heard the good news.

‘I am up in heaven now with grandad and nana – sure they are stopping me pulling the birds.

‘Well don’t be mad, don’t be sad. I died doing what I had to do and that was serving the British.

‘Celebrate my life because I love you and I will see you all again.’

Gunner Lee Thornton, age 22. Died: Iraq, 2006.

He wrote to his fiancĂ©e, Helen: ‘I don’t know why I am writing this because I really hope that this letter never gets to you, because if it does that means I am dead.

‘Just because I have passed away does not mean I am not with you.

‘I’ll always be there looking over you, keeping you safe.

‘So whenever you feel lonely, just close your eyes and I’ll be there right by your side. I really did love you with all I had, you were everything to me.’

Lieutenant Colonel Herbert ‘H’ Jones VC, age 42. DIEd Goose Green, the Falklands, 1982.

Ten days before he was killed charging at enemy positions, for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, he wrote to his wife, Sara.

He said: ‘I don’t suppose there’s any chance of anything happening to me, but just in case I want to tell you how very much I love you, and thank you for being such a super wife for the last 18 years.

‘Marrying you was the best thing that ever happened to me, and thanks to you I can look back on a life that has been pretty good so far. I’ve been very lucky – let’s hope my luck holds.’

Pilot Officer Michael Andrew Scott, age 24. Died over the English Channel, 1941.

He wrote to his parents: ‘You know now that you will not be seeing me any more, and perhaps the knowledge is better than the months of uncertainty which you have been through.

'There are one or two things which I should like you to know, and which I have been too shy to let you know in person.

‘Firstly, let me say how splendid you both have been during this terrible war.

‘Neither of you have shown how hard things must have been, and when peace comes this will serve to knit the family together as it should always have been knit.

‘As a family we are terribly afraid of showing our feelings, but war has uncovered unsuspected layers of affection beneath the crust of gentlemanly reserve.’

Eric Lubbock, age 24. Died at Ypres 1917.

‘My darling Mum, One is here confronted almost daily with the possibility of Death, and when one looks forward to the next few months this possibility becomes really a probability.

‘As my object in life is to comfort and help you, so it is my last hope if I should be taken from you, that I may not cause you too great a grief.

‘Also I know that if in my last hour, I am conscious, my chief consolation will be to feel that these thoughts may reach you.’

Second Lieutenant Eric Heaton, age 20. Died: The Somme, 1916.

From his dugout, he wrote to his parents: ‘My darling Mother and Father, I am writing this on the eve of my first action.

‘Tomorrow we go to the attack in the greatest battle the British army has ever fought.

‘I cannot quite express my feelings on this night and I cannot tell if it is God’s will that I should come through – but if I fall in battle then I have no regrets save for my loved ones I leave behind.

‘It is a great cause and I came out willing to serve my King and Country

‘My greatest concern is that I have the courage and determination necessary to lead my platoon well.’

The Honourable Samuel Barrington, age 19. Died: Quatre Bras, France, 1815.

Two days before the Battle of Waterloo, he wrote: ‘If I escape with my whole skin, I shall think myself well off and be thankful.

‘If on the contrary some unlucky ball finished me, I trust I shall not be wholly unprepared to face danger and death.’


For those who recall our family friend who recently completed Army Ranger training, he is heading to Afghanistan in several weeks. God protect all there.



Karena said...

Toad how poignant. I think it may break my heart to read these letters!

Art by Karena

Suburban Princess said...

I dont know if I could get through it without sobbing. I have some letters my granda wrote to my gran when he was in WW2 and they always make me cry. One of my great-grandfathers was killed at Flanders in 1915...I will have to poke about and see if any of his person effects made it back to his wife in Scotland.

a n t o n n i a said...

Toad, I haven't visited in awhile and I'm touched by this book that you reviewed. I know a certain man in the house that will enjoy it as much as myself. On another note but similar, I have posted a war story on my blog that you may find equally as compelling.
Best to you this Wednesday.