Curator Joanna looks at three couples who used the post to express their feelings...

Writing a love letter goes hand in hand with the separation of lovers. This could be a long separation – weeks, months or years, as experienced by countless lovers divided by war. Or it could be just a short period of time – days or hours, that the couple fills by writing letters. Our collection of love letters spans over 100 years. Here we look at three couples who used the post to express their feelings.

Ian and Joan

Ian McLennan wrote to Joan Walker during their early courtship and then during their separation after their marriage, when he left for military service. Ian’s love letters connect the couple across the distance that divided them. Ian asked Joan to think of him at midnight every day so that at the closing of each day we will meet now, always and forever’.

Letter sent from Ian McLennan to Joan McLennan, (2016-0078/04)

Ian’s love letters describe how his memories of their time together bring about a ‘delicious pain for you in my heart’, and how he hopes time passes quickly ’till we can be together again’. Ian addressed his letters to My Own Darling’ and signed them off with ‘all my love darling always your loving husband Ian.’

Black and white photograph of Ian McLennan, Joan McLennan and their baby, Jacqui McLennan, (2016-0078/31)

The act of letter writing could provide a format for a more open and honest conversation than could perhaps happen face to face. For example, while Ian was convalescing in hospital, following an operation, he describes the difficulty in remaining ‘composed when you are near me’. The love Ian held for Joan is so expressively and romantically described. He wrote that he longs for ‘the day when we can be really alone once again.’ The letter ends ‘remember I love you – always – as always as from the first.’

Harry and Olive

We look after a group of 33 postcards, hand illustrated by Harry Daniels and sent to his future wife Olive Durst during their courtship, between 1907 and 1911. Harry would write to Olive after short periods of separation, sometimes putting pen to paper straight after a meeting. Our research has discovered that while Harry was writing to Olive, they lived just a 15-minute walk away from each other, but he still used illustration and writing to communicate his feelings.

Postcard, hand-drawn and coloured by Harry Daniels, 1909 (2014-0038/13)

Reverse of a card, hand drawn and coloured by Harry Daniels, 1909. (2014-0038/13)

In 1907 he wrote: ‘It wasn’t, of course, at all likely that I could remain quiet for a week (nearly) out of hearing & (worse!) out of sight of you… this all too brief p.c. is a poor remedy but must, I suppose, suffice’

What makes Harry’s letters even more special, are his beautiful illustrations. You can see more of these here.

Harry was killed in action in France in 1917, just three years after his wedding to Olive. His innocent and carefully made postcards are a testament to Olive and Harry’s relationship.

Robert and Mary

Robert Abbott wrote to his sweetheart, Mary, several times in the mid-19th century. His letters discuss his daily activities but demonstrate how the format of letters allows for romantic sentiment. Robert’s letters are addressed to ‘to my beloved Mary’, and signed ‘yours in unalterable love’. Robert wrote on writing paper decorated with flowers, Victorian symbols of romantic love.

Love letter by Robert Abbott, 6 Aug 1847, (OB1995.441/4)

Love letter by Robert Abbott, 3 Aug 1847, (OB1995.441/3)

Love letter by Robert Abbott, 26 Apr 1847, (OB1995.441/2)

My favourite love letter in the collection was written from Ian McLennan to Joan Walker, on the 22 May 1941, shortly after speaking to her on the phone. He describes how he has been ‘pinching myself to see if I am really awake’ after Joan accepted his proposal of marriage. He hopes that the time until his leave passes quickly, ’till we can be together again’.

This letter brings together three types of communication: face to face, over the telephone, and in writing, to build a picture of the different ways this couple built their relationship and confirmed their love.

– Joanna Espin, Curator

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