Posted on 20th August 2021
#ForgottenFriday – Wartime Love Letters
Today’s #Forgotten Friday focuses on the relationship between two wartime sweethearts, Bert and Betty, the subjects of our upcoming performance over August bank holiday Letters From Betty.
Summer, our Archivist, talks about her experience and first impressions when reading and organising the letters for their new home in the Archive here at Eden Camp Modern History Museum:
“I was astounded to see such well-preserved letters in almost original condition. After I noticed there were over 600 letters, I was quite shocked! Specially to see that Bert had kept Betty’s letters with him throughout the war too!”
“I first started to pick random letters up in the piles and arranged them in date order so I could work out the letter’s context. I made sure to start with the letters that Bert sent to Betty as there was a general organisation to this set. (Betty was always very organised according to her daughter Ann!) So, it doesn’t surprise me that the letters were kept safe and well.”
Betty and Bert met through their parents working together at the Co-op Dairy in Birmingham, they got to know one another through exchanging letters and gifts in the mail. Many young women were encouraged to write and knit balaclavas and socks for the men in the forces as their contribution to the war effort and boosting morale of the troops.
Bert joined the Navy at aged 18 on 26th March 1942. He was sent to the shore established training ship HMS Collingwood, Fareham, Hants. Here Bert supported assault landing craft personnel. About that time Bert joined Combined Operations which recruited from the Army, Navy and Air Force specifically to go to specialised training establishments for the purpose of landing vehicles and troops on beaches for invasion.
“I managed to date-order the piles of letters and finally found the very first letter exchanged between the two. The letter was dated 16/4/1942 which was a reply of thanks to Betty for the pullover she had knitted for Bert; which was “quite a good stitch” quoted from Bert himself.
I carried on reading Bert’s letters, and I began to grasp onto Bert’s cheeky, witty personality, which made me fall more and more in love with his character. He always gave Betty nicknames before he said hello or goodbye, which were usually ‘Wings’ or ‘Skylark’.
Moving onto Betty’s letters was very surreal, the fact a young sailor in the Navy kept every single letter by his side throughout the war and during his voyages is unique; this is what makes this collection one of a kind.”
Betty was a young woman during the war, she was a very keen knitter and writer. Beside letters and knitting, she sent Bert other useful items in the early days of their relationship. Such as stationery, books, toothbrushes, and soap; an array of things to keep him going! She was very enthusiastic and willing to help anyone with anything. Betty intended to join the WRENS but sadly couldn’t in the end and began to work in munitions instead.
“As I was reading through the letters Betty had written, my heart began to sink when I came to the D-Day letters she was sending to Bert, not knowing whether he was alive and well; the anticipation and worry which was conveyed through the letters broke my heart. It was then Bert’s heartfelt reply with his cheeky jokes that brought a smile back onto my face.
As I was coming to the end of the letters, I noticed a telegram, it was of course the very last part of their correspondence, it was the happy ending I was anticipating! Bert was coming home! I was relieved and I have ever since remained to hold their love story close to my heart.
I was ever so lucky to meet Ann, the daughter of Bert and Betty, who is a kind, loving soul, who has a personality exactly like her wonderful parents. I will never forget my experience when I first met Ann.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ann for loaning these special letters to our archive here at Eden Camp, they make such a precious addition to the stories we are able to talk about society in the Second World War.”