You will find the Letter to an Unknown Soldier website here. For a limited time you can write a letter to be added to the collection. It can be of any kind that you like. Here is mine.
I am writing a letter to an unknown soldier for a website. You’d have shaken your head at that and wondered what was going on- you who couldn’t even follow the television easily any more when it was no longer all live and they started editing and jump cutting too much. You were not unknown to me as a person, of course, just as a soldier. I am left trying to imagine what you went through, having failed to ask you while I had the chance. You were a lifelong horseman who must have gone through hell trying to protect the horses you cared for in your battalion from their worst nightmare, a precious voice from the past who I should have listened to more while I had the chance. A piece of living history pottering around in the garden growing your fruit and veg and dead heading your roses. I am proud to have known you and been brought up by you- something else that I should have said. I was your shadow in the garden, your mate, your only grandchild- the “only one I’ve got”. You were my strong safe haven in a confusing world. Someone who was always on my side.
Looking back I am left with only clues, a word or an object to tell me what I should have asked. A large framed photograph where you sit proudly with your comrades in full uniform. A polished jug made from a shell case with a field gun engraved on it. You told me that you had stolen it from a German officer and that it was the first shell fired on your part of the front. Nobody ever came into the front room for the first time without being shown it and told the story. A postcard with a row of kisses for baby Edie, “just to let you know that I am still alive.” A tale of some loud-mouthed new recruits who were being marched to the front, shouting about how they were going to bash Jerry, blown up by a shell before they ever got to the front line. I can still remember how you shook your head. “They never even saw a Jerry.” A flashbulb memory from hell. The final photograph by the front door, before you left for the front, your face wary and shadowed with anxious pride and the stuffed stoat rearing up from a patch of dried grass which you caught on your last rabbiting expedition before being sent out to France. You only left Yorkshire three times in your life and one of those times was to fight in the war to end all wars. It was the defining experience of your life yet you rarely spoke of it. Only the way that you shone your boots on Remembrance day and the way that those comrades were still in pride of place fifty years after they first stared out from the wall tells me that nothing else ever meant quite as much.
I am proud of your strength and your dignity. I am proud that you could see so much suffering and destruction and stay intact. I owe my existence to that strength. East Yorkshire farming folk didn’t talk about loving each other, but you showed it in everything that you did for me and without your care and forethought, honed in the most terrible of circumstances, my life would have been immeasurably poorer.
Thank you granddad. I love you. x