Letters from the Front
Each week, more than 12 million letters were delivered to and from soldiers during the War, providing opportunities for them to exchange news with family and friends, request parcels to supplement their rations or provide warm clothing, and to conﬁrm that they were well and unharmed. Censorship of soldiers’ letters was undertaken by regimental ofﬁcers with the main purpose of removing operational details that might prove of value to the enemy (e.g. references to locations, numbers of troops, casualties, criticism of superiors and even the favourite British topic of the weather, as this might indicate the state of the trenches). However, letters were an important way to maintain morale, and freedom of expression was widely indulged.
As the letters began to arrive home in Ely and the surrounding villages, families started to share them through the medium of the local newspaper. These were not only the letters of condolence which sadly began to fill its pages, but letters telling of life at the Front, many of them making everything sound almost jolly and trying to allay family fears. The extracts from letters collected here all come from Ely or Prickwillow soldiers and appeared in either the Ely Standard or the Cambridge Independent Press – unless stated, the date shown is the date of publication rather than the date of the letter.
Undoubtedly the Ely name which appears most often on letters in the Ely Standard is that of Major Goodwyn Archer, as he wrote the thank you letters to the people of Ely for the comforts and necessities that they sent their men of the Cambridgeshire Regiment. However, his more formal letters do not give much of a flavour of life at the Front and are not included here.
From April 1915 all letters destined for publication had first to be submitted to the Press Bureau in London.
Letters from 1914
Letters from 1915
Letters from 1916
Letters from 1917
Letters from 1918
In March of 1915 the Prickwillow correspondent of the Ely Standard commented on the letters he had seen:
"Reading between the lines of these soldiers' letters home we learn among other things that (1) the Germans are at any rate not all rotten shots (2) not much sleep is to be had in the trenches (3) the chief food served up while on trench duty is biscuits, bully beef and jam and (4) parcels from home give great pleasure, no matter what the contents."