Love, war and friendship...Francesco gives us a unique glimpse into people's lives through their letters.

Francesco, an MA Museum Studies Student describes newly acquired letters dating 1943 to 1947, giving a wonderful insight into the emotions and events of the time while being away from loved ones…

Francesco while working on John Meades’ letters

As part of my Masters UCL placement at The Postal Museum, I looked through a group of letters dating to the Second World War and the years following with the aim of organising them in view of their accession into the Museum Collection.

John Meades and Betty Smith (2017-0051/2)

These letters were all sent to and from John Meades, a Battery Sargent Major in the British Army of the Rhine. John was stationed for a time with the 4th Field Regiment Royal Artillery at Larkhill, Wiltshire and The School of Artillery in Germany.

Many of these tell us about the beginning of the love story between John and his future wife, Betty Smith. The initial letters have a more tempered character while the later are all wrapped up with a lot of ‘x’s, it is really possible to see, through these, how sentiment grow.

Letter sent to Betty from John reporting some problems on mail services. (2017-0051/96a)

It was often the case that the mail service was delayed and so letters arrived in the wrong order. Delay could have been due to the weather as suggested in these letters or perhaps due to the high number of letters being sent in and around the war as families and friends were parted for long lengths of time.

Letter sent to John by his father reporting some problems on mail services (2017-0051/100a)

The majority of the letters include the correspondence between John and Betty and John and his parents. Amongst these letters, one stands out. This is written from neither Betty nor from John’s parents but from Steve, a friend of John, who apologies for not having replied to John ‘all this while’.

Envelope containing Steve’s letter (2017-0051/84f)

This is indeed the only letter written from him to John and, through the letter, addressed from the Larkhill’s School of Artillery, we know that Steve is likely a part of the British Army.

First page of the letter written from Steve to ‘Johnny’ (2017-0051/84a)

Steve’s comment on Montgomery (2017-0051/84c)

The letter is date stamped on the 17th December 1946. After having updated his friend with fresh news from home, Steve makes some comments on the military situation:

‘[…] I thought you had now had quite enough of the army it is a good life but even the old stagers will admit, it gets a bit sickening at times and really there is not much future in it at the moment what with Monty mucking about etc…’

At that time Bernard Montgomery, the hero of El Alamein, was indeed the Commander in Chief of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), where John was stationed. However, it seems that after the war’s success the soldiers were not too happy with him. Steve concludes his letter alluding to the fact that, by retiring from the army, John would have left it more the wiser than when he joined, ‘even if in the art of beer swilling only!!’.

Photograph of five soldiers, John Meades is the second from the left. (2017-0051/1)

Steve’s letter, is addressed from Larkhill, where also John was stationed in early 1943. Unfortunately, it was not possible to know through the letters whether John and Steve knew each other before Larkhill. Nevertheless, it is lovely to see that they remained friends even when stationed far apart. As a matter of fact, Steve is the only person who takes the liberty of writing: ‘Dear Johnny’.

Organising these letters gave us the chance to further analyse the context in which these were written. The more we familiarise with the handwriting of John and the others the more we can get insights into the context of the time.

– Francesco, Student of MA Museum Studies