“My dear Lill if I never come back you will know that I think of you more than any girl I have ever met. My message is of love to you, and I wait the dove an answer from you.”
These lines are contained in the first of a moving collection of letters sent by a First World War soldier from the front line in France to his loved one in Wolverhampton.
The rare collection, which contains 22 letters, documents the blossoming relationship of a couple separated because of battle.
The letters were written by Wilfred Edwards to Lillian Wignall during 1916 and 1917 and donated to Wolverhampton Council’s Archives and Local Studies service by a relative of Ms Wignall 12 years ago, only coming again to light during a recent trawl.
Archives assistant Guy Williams says the letters give a detailed insight into what life was like for a soldier serving in the war.
“Reading through the letters you can really see how much Wilfred misses his love and his life back home and how important it is for him to receive letters and small gifts from Lillian,” he said.
These gifts include Woodbine ‘cigs’ and papers as well as comic books.
Wilfred’s rank and precise location are unknown, although in a letter dated May 29 1917 he wrote: “Well Lilly, my address is just the same. 36661, 5th Platoon, B Company, 1st Gloucesters, British Expeditionary Force, France.”
It is not known how long Wilfred had been on the front line, but it is clear from the earliest letters dated November and December 1916 that he is already missing home. On December 20 he wrote: “Well Lill I was on the front line when my birthday came and I hope I am not in it for the next.
“I would sooner have a walk around Coven and call at Prices like we used to this coming holiday rather than be out here.”
The sense of isolation he experienced can be seen in his final letter of 1916, which reads: “I wish I could send you a Christmas card but there are no shops here, only what has been blown away.” In the same correspondence Wilfred also references some of his favourite landmarks back home, and asks what the Grand Theatre panto is like.
During the war, letters sent by soldiers to their families were heavily censored to keep details of the shocking conditions in the trenches away from the public. In a letter dated March 20 1917, Wilfred says: “I shall be grateful when I can talk to you, for it is awkward writing when you can’t put anything in letters.”
Sadly the couple’s story did not have a happy ending, as a document accompanying the letters states that although Lillian and Wilfred got engaged, they never married.
It is also noted that Lillian lived to the age of 99, but Wilfred’s story is unknown after November 1917.
So it may never be known whether Wilfred got to perform the wish he expressed in a letter shortly before Christmas 1917: “Well Lill, I wish I could sing carols at your back door, I would wake all the people up for miles around All Saints Road.”