“The only boy I love” – a poignant story for Valentine’s Day

William James Martin and Emily Chitticks. From IWM Documents.2554

William James Martin and Emily Chitticks. From IWM Documents.2554

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. The British Army Postal Service delivered around 2 billion letters during the war. In this blog post we share the moving story of William James Martin and Emily Ellen Chitticks, two sweethearts brought together and then separated by war.


  • William and Emily

William (known as Will) was born in 1897 in Cornwall, and worked as a farm hand. He joined the Royal Devon Yeomanry soon after the outbreak of war in 1914, and embarked on military training in Essex.

It was here that he met Emily Chitticks, who was the same age and was working as a servant in Suffolk House, Herongate. According to Emily’s carefully written notes, the couple met on 9 August 1916.

Father says he will be only too pleased to welcome you as his future son-in-law

After Will was moved on to a training camp in Norfolk, they began to write letters to each other. They enjoyed a whirlwind romance and became engaged just weeks later on 27 October.

Despite initially hoping to spend Christmas together in Cornwall, Will volunteered to go to Devonport and left for France on 5 December 1916 with 8 Battalion Devonshire Regiment.


  •  Off to the front

If only this war was over, dear, and we were together again

Will arrived on the Western Front in the winter of 1916-17 and he and Emily continued their correspondence. Their letters beautifully illustrate their growing love and affection, and their desire to be reunited.

Will wrote his last letter to Emily on 24 March 1917. Three days later, he was killed by a sniper. Unaware of his death, Emily wrote to him the following day – her letter was returned, with the envelope marked ‘Killed in action’.

Envelope and letter returned to Emily after Will's death. From IWM Documents.2554

Envelope and letter returned to Emily after Will’s death. From IWM Documents.2554


  • Remembrance

Emily never married, declaring ‘my heart and love are buried in his grave in France’.

Sacred to the memory of my darling sweetheart Will, the only boy I love

She died in 1974 and her treasured letters were donated to Imperial War Museums.



  • Remember William James Martin on his Life Story page
  • Do you have any stories to share?
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