First World War centenary: Postcards to a Havering sweetheart from Western Front soldier
- Credit: Archant
At just 23 years old Pte Arthur Bailes went to the Western Front to aid the war effort; his only communication with his sweetheart was through postcards.
He sent about 100 of these to Maud Heywood, who he would later marry while on leave.
They have been unearthed by their daughter Julia Bailes, of Harold Wood, and are being displayed in Upminster Tithe Barn, in Hall Lane.
The poignant missives reveal an insight into relationships during the First World War.
Arthur lived in Brentwood and signed up to the Army in 1914 leaving Maud, from Havering, behind working as a chambermaid in the mansion in Belhus Park, Aveley, which was destroyed after the war partly due to the severe bomb damage.
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Arthur was in the Army Service Corps making sure the troops on the front line got the supplies they needed.
Many of his notes, addressed to Essex, in “Blighty”, are of him wishing Maud well and sending his love. Many details were screened by the censors in case they gave away sensitive information to the enemy.
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Many of the captions on the postcards were crudely scrubbed out so Maud would not know his whereabouts.
The government feared that sensitive information would be revealed and that if people at home knew the horrors of the front then support for the war might be diminished.
Some postcards had their entire contents, apart from the address, obscured.
One chilling message, written on the back of one depicting a derelict town, escaped the censors. It read: “I have been here two or three times, and so have the Germans.”
When Arthur was on leave in 1917 he and Maud married, but he had to once again return to the trenches.
A Christmas card sent from a French hospital in 1918 reveals that the newly-married soldier was being treated for a serious injury to his head, thought to be from shrapnel wound.
The war was then over and he was discharged to return home to his wife.
After his return, the Bailes went on to have two daughters.
Julia also discovered Arthur’s “trench art”; spending his free time making ornaments out of ammunition.
Remaining are two blades used for opening envelopes. Their handles are made from discarded bullets and the blades are ornately engraved with Somme and Ypres where he served.
Andrew Skingley, 61, who volunteers at the barn and curated the exhibition was a neighbour of Arthur as he was growing up, describing him as a “good old boy”.
Andrew has read Arthur’s war diaries which detail horrific events such as Zeppelins bombing Upminster while he was on leave.
He said: “In his diary he talks of his mates being killed by bombs.
“He must have been very, very grateful to have survived. Where would we be without them?
“Although he wasn’t a frontline troop he did go there and was left scarred.”
Julia was not available to talk to the Recorder but Andrew had spoken to her about the cards.
“She kept them for so long and re-read them before handing them over to me,” he said.
“Her dad spoke very little about the horrors he witnessed in the war.
“How can you describe what happened?
“So many people got killed and maimed.
“She’s very proud of him.”
The barn opens on two weekends a month. The next will be May 3 and 4 from 10.30am to 4pm, entry is free.