Letters from the First World War: End of 1914

Arrival of the mail at a training camp. © IWM (Q 33720)

Arrival of the mail at a training camp. © IWM (Q 33720)

During the First World War, letter writing was the main form of communication between soldiers and their loved ones, helping to ease the pain of separation. In this blog post, we will look at the story of Alfred Dougan Chater, known as Dougan, who served with the London Regiment in France from October 1914.

–          Dougan’s Life Story

From the records found on Lives of the First World War, we can see that Dougan was born in Strawberry Hill, Middlesex on 11 March 1890. Prior to the war, he worked as a clerk and like many thousands of other young men, answered his country’s call to arms in August 1914.

Dougan joined 28 Battalion London Regiment and embarked on three months’ training to prepare for active service on the Western Front. He wrote to his mother and his sweetheart, Joyce Francis, from the training camp.

He wrote the following heartfelt letter to Joyce the day before embarking for France.

–          “So now dear it is goodbye”

Oct 25 1914

Trowley House, Abbots Langley

Darling Joy,

I must write you one more line dearest to say goodbye before we go, as god knows when I shall see you again. I am so awfully glad we are going – it is what we have been waiting for for so long and it has come so much sooner than we expected or hoped. I heard about it yesterday afternoon when I was going home; I called at our headquarters at Euston where I found the 2nd Battalion being got together and was told the 1st Btn were to leave for France on Monday. I think there is not much doubt that we are really going: we were served out with new rifles this afternoon and we believe that we shall be at Southampton tomorrow night. I wish I could have seen you today and I can’t bear the thought of going without saying goodbye to you but perhaps it is better as it is. So now dear it is goodbye and may we meet again if god wills. You know that if I am allowed to come back I shall feel exactly the same to you as I do now and shall be ready for you whenever you can come to me and you know that I shall come straight to you and ask you directly I come back. It’s a funny game this war! We are all fairly shouting with joy at going and I daresay we shall soon be cursing the day and then when we get back we shall say we have had the time of our lives. Good bye darling, and may god bless and keep you. Goodbye little girl, Micky

(From IWM Documents.1697)

– The Western Front

Dougan travelled to France on 26 October, and joined thousands of other soldiers who dug down into trenches to protect themselves from gun fire and the start of harsh winter weather. By the end of 1914, the war on the Western Front had become deadlocked. Neither side had achieved an outright victory, and it was clear that this war would not be ‘over by Christmas’.

In the next blog post we will look at Dougan’s experiences in December 1914, and the extraordinary events that he recounted in a letter to his mother, Jessie.

Read more letters from IWM Collections here

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