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One last letter from the front – that never reached the girl it was written for

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 16, 2014

By Gavin Jones

  • Albert Upton with the girl he had hoped to marry, Alice. This may well have been the last time they were together

  • Albert's dog tag

  • The last page of Albert's final letter, with his name spelled out in kisses

  • Notification from the War Graves Commission that Albert was buried at Ypres

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THIS must be among the saddest stories we've ever told, and given the amount of First World War coverage we've featured of late, we don't say that lightly.

A photograph, a name tag and two letters are all that remain of one man's short life, but together they are enough to paint a tragic picture of his last days alive.

Peter Gadsby, originally of West Bromwich but now of Wolverly near Kidderminster, sent the small collection of items to us following our request for Great War stories.

They have long been in the possession of Peter's wife Doreen (nee Hirons) whose family lived in Hamstead, West Bromwich, and nearby Witton in Birmingham. All the items relate to Doreen's uncle, Albert Upton, the young soldier pictured here with his fiancee, known only as Alice.

The letter, handwritten in soft pencil, was written on 14 August 1917 and addressed to 'Dearest Sweetheart'. Albert calls her 'Duck' several times, but thankfully in one instance uses her first name.

The letter we have here is the last Albert wrote to her, and not only does it reveal the depths of their misery at being parted, it also hints, vaguely of course, at just how dangerous life was becoming at the front.

"Dearest Sweetheart," Albert begins, "I have received your most welcome letter and I feel very sorry that you are very lonely. I only wish this war was over so that I would come and keep you company once again, but dear try and keep a brave heart for my sake.

"Dearest when I read your letter I was very much upset and I could not go to sleep that night but if you will keep a brave heart all will come right in the end.

"Duck you say your Will has been having it hot lately, but I do not think there is a hotter place for shell fire than where we are in Flanders, we have had some casualties lately.

"Duck, one of the fellows that was doing cook with me got a nice blighty one the other day, a shrapnel bullet straight through the leg. He was singing that song 'Take me Back to Dear Old Blighty' at the time he got hit and it was a blighty one too.

"I helped to carry him to the dressing station and I was about done in when I got there, it was about two miles from our battery.

"Duck, I have heard from Mother and she said they had all gone on their holidays I think they are very lucky to have a holiday while this terrible war is on, and she said that our Alf had had his papers to go on the 10th of this month and that our Harrold has been rejected altogether and I am very pleased to hear that, why don't they fetch some of the single fellows.

"Duck it makes my blood boil to think of fellows such as Joe Packer going out to enjoy themselves while there are men out here sacrificing their lives daily while they are shirking at home.

"Duck I have seen some terrible sights lately, horses and men blown to pieces, the very first day we came on this front there was six horses and three men killed in our battery with one shell. It's hellish here.

"Duck I am always thinking of you when I go into my little dugout I say to myself 'If only Alice was here with me to keep me company I should be alright.' But I shall have to wait, my turn will come some day. You say you would have liked to have been with me when I had my few hours sleep yes and I wish so too it would have been very nice too.

"So Alf has gone to work on a farm I think he is very lucky don't you? And I wish him the best of luck. I wrote to him, did he get my letter alright?

"Dearest I think I will close my short letter, more next time from your everloving Sweetheart and some day to be Husband, with heaps of love and kisses from one who is far away xxxxxxxxxxxxx.

"The sky is blue

The sea is deep

Thinking of you

I cannot sleep"

Finally, Albert signs off, spelling out his name in kisses, and adding a brief postscript to explain that he's written one more sheet than last time to make up for a short letter last time.

Not only did they turn out to be his last ever words to Alice, it's very doubtful she ever got to read them. The other document, sent some time later from the Imperial War Graves Commssion to Albert's parents in Witton, is a brief couple of sheets to tell the family that Gunner A.W. Upton of the Royal Garrison Artillery had been buried at Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, Plot 1, Row G, Grave 49. The only other information is his date of death: 14 August, 1917. His letter to Alice had been written that very day.

Albert had placed it in an envelope and addressed it to Miss A Taylor, 259 Wellington Road, Perry Barr, Birmingham, not knowing it was to be one of the last things he ever did. The fact that it was returned to Albert's family along with his dog tag suggests that he had not had the chance to post it.

Do you have stories from your family members during the First World War that you'd like to share with Bugle readers? Send them to us at the usual address, give us a call, drop by our office or send an email to gjones@blackcountrybugle .co.uk.

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