The brothers’ voices come out very strongly from the letters.
This is the end of a letter from Ted of May 1917, the transcript of which runs to two full pages of A4 covering everything at home and in the field, including his imminent return to the fight, with humour and compassion and spirit of adventure.
There seems to be a lot of fighting going on in France nowadays, & especially in the air. Germany is evidently very anxious about the Western Front, & seems to be doing her utmost to keep us from breaking through. The slaughter must be appalling, but we simply must kill them off & so end the war quicker.
Much love to all
Yr loving son
The following letter is from Richard, just behind the front in France.
Many thanks for the parcel porridge cake etc. Most welcome. Put some lux in next time. I am longing to use the Emergency rations. The tent has arrived & is lovely, keeps the rain out too, Topher & I put it up. The watch too has come, Thanks so much for all. I want a pair of Jaeger putties, would you send me some please. Thin sort if possible, don’t know if they make two weights.
I saw Nell’s brother the other day. [Nell was engaged to Ted] Fancy meeting him just on the road.
Oh I know what I want, a pair of grey riding breeches in the big black tin box in the lumber room. They are in with that red coat & things I did’nt take to India. They are the same stuff as that suit of mine.
I am sending you £5 to pay postage etc for all these things. I see the cake & porridge always cost ¼ to send.
Send us some penny packets of seeds, mustard & cress, radishes, carrots sweet peas & taters, lettuce, vegetable marrow eh? Scarlet runners.
Best love to all
Yr loving son
Send me John Bull every week will you?
In the original letter, Jaeger is underlined three times (only the best for Dashing Dick). This is typical of Richard; in other letters he asks his mother for arm-bands for his stretcher bearers, for clothes, for food, and – as he mentions here – a tent. When Ted was in France he too asked his mother to send him things, ranging from lanterns to home made cake, but Richard’s sense of entitlement is extraordinary because it isn’t cushioned by Ted’s thoughtful discussion of family news and current events.
In fairness, as a doctor serving on the Western Front, Richard was dealing with the worst horrors of the appalling slaughter Ted describes, horrors he would not have wanted to share with his mother. And if he was focused on the job in hand, then I can see why he would ask her for things that would help him do it. But even in India before the war began, his letters to her are opaque and reveal little of what he thinks. Maybe he felt suffocated by her adoration (he was the eldest and her favourite). Maybe he was just used to it and had no idea how spoiled he was.