Loaf letters

9th January 1914

The fourth page of the 4th January letter to Mabel contained an extra letter Frank had written five days later on the 9th January. He then went onto write another letter to his Aunt. They are both included below.

On a fourth side another, more closely written letter dated 9-1-14 (he’d forgotten what year it was)

Dear Till,

I have received your last two letters and got the 2/6 alright. Now I am pleased to hear that you had no trouble getting the money, and now I want you to spend it on yourself and Aunt. I don’t want it and if I do I will let you know.

Tell Aunt I have not forgot her for am going to write to her next. We are lucky at time to strike a small town or village and then we are able to buy things and they don’t half charge 10d for a loaf so you can guess what it is like.

We are having some hard times for the country is absolutely flooded and mud in heaps so you can guess what the trenches are like.

I have just finished scraping mud off myself, wet through to the skin. That’s where it is, if only they would send me out some of Kitchener’s Army to relieve us it would be alright.

Now Till I have been out here 5 months and have not had chance of a good rest, which I can say I am in need of, for we have been on the go ever since we left Belfast. That’s where it is fellows at home won’t enlist and enjoying themselves and us out here putting up with the hardships of it, it will be a long time before this War is over!

Now I will pack up and will write soon. Remember me to all at home and I hope you enjoy yourself along of Dolly and Edie on Sunday.

Love to all at home


We get some more first hand descriptions of the conditions facing the men in Belgium that winter. The other interesting information is about money.

Firstly, Frank now has the postage money to send back the Princess Mary Christmas Gift Fund Box to his sister. I wonder if we’ll hear about it again in a later letter?

We’ve found out already that Frank has been incredibly generous and given over some of his pay to his sister. She’s already managed to get hold of it. quite how that was done is something I will come back to in a future post. He’s insistent that she spends it on herself and their Aunt Carrie. What a decent fellow.

We find out that the soldiers are being absolutely fleeced. The UK Cost of Living index was started in July 1914 and records that a loaf of white bread cost about 1 pence (1d). So to be charged 10d was daylight robbery, even if there was a war on. It’s very common to find soldiers complaining about the price of goods in their letters and diaries throughout the war. Local trades people knew that they had a captive client base and so prices naturally soared.

Frank is beginning to complain regularly about a lack of rest and the fact that there’s no sight of new recruits on the horizon. But it took an awfully long time to build a new army. Especially an army of amateurs. He’s right to complain about men dragging their heels in volunteering, but the fact was that the British Army didn’t have the resources to process to the sheer numbers of volunteers, let alone conscripts. Conscription was some way off in the UK.

Frank mentions his ex-girlfriend Dolly and also Edie, who appears in a letter from Frank back in June. Perhaps Dolly and Edie were sisters? We found out in the last letter that Mabel was going to meet them on Sunday, which would have been the 12th January 1915.

And now we have the letter Frank promised to write to his Aunt.

PC to Mrs (could be Miss) Webster, 29 Strathleven Rd etc, franked 11 January 15 – dated 09.01.14

Dear Aunt

I expect you are thinking that Bid has forgotten you, for not writing to you before now. Well Aunt I haven’t forgotten you and never will but have not had time to write you a letter lately which I have been going to do. Glad to hear that you had a good time Xmas and also hope you get rid of your cold. I am getting on as well as can be expected and still in the pink.

Tom is getting plenty of leave, I wish I was able to. Remember me to old Tango, tell her I hope to give her the Glad Eye before long and also Old Uncle. How is E Jim, has he started yet or is he still on the retired list? Glad to hear Uncle Mattie is still on the old knocker.

Now I think this is all the news for now Aunt, hoping this finds you in the best of health and still merry and bright. The weather out here is wicked, it’s pouring in torrance.

Love to all, Bid.

This letter is similar to many letters I wrote home from school when I had nothing to say. The first paragraph describes the act of writing a letter while writing a letter.

Frank then asks after Tango, Old Uncle, E Jim and Uncle Mattie. I only know who Uncle Mattie is out of this roll call. E Jim must have been ex-forces and old enough not to have to re-enlist but other than that I am no nearer identifying him.

Frank ends the letter with a creative bit of spelling but a sentence that sums up conditions for Frank and the rest of the Dorsets.

The Dorsets spent another day in Dranoutre in billets making up sandbags and hurdles and delivering them to the trenches, according to the 15th Brigade’s diary.

Dolly mixture

Envelope addressed to Miss Crawshaw, 29 etc APO 13-12-14; passed by censor no. 1611 Lce Cpl Crawshaw, 1st Dorset Regt., British Expeditionary Force 13-12-14

Dear Till

I received your letter alright and was surprised to hear that Tom as to another 11 days’ leave he is doing alright. Well Till I am still in the pink and am getting on alright the weather out here is not up to much we are getting plenty of rain so you can guess what it is like in the trenches.

Something seemed to tell me that Dolly would either write to me or you let me have her address and I will drop her a PC if you write to her remember me to her. Yes I think it was good of her as you mentioned. Bert is doing alright what I can see of it when is he coming out here, he is a long time about it, and tell Horace he should put a sprint in it and come out here also. Remember me to old Tango and also Uncle, don’t he wish he was young enough to come back in the Navy I be he wishes he was back again.

How are you all getting on at home still merry and bright and how is Mother still knocking. Please to hear that you are sending me out a parcel, much in not much. No Till I think this is all the news except that I have heard from Muff and she is getting on alright. No I have not received the chocolates no I think this is all the news at present trusting you are in the best of health and also all at home. Tell Aunt I am writing to her tomorrow, don’t forget to write back soon.

I remain

Your loving Brother

Frank xx

PC franked 13 De 14 – censor 1611 (apparently by the name of E Rogers) to Miss Crawshaw, 29 etc

Dear Till,

Just received your letter and was surprised to hear Tom is still on leave, I bet he is going strong not much 3d a pint. Please to hear that you have heard from Dolly send me her address and I will drop her a few lines don’t forget to let me have it.

You want to tell Bert to hurry up and come out here its about time he was out here. Don’t. talk about rain we have had bags of it. Please to hear you are sending the parcel. Have heard from Muff and she is getting on alright. I am getting on alright and still in the pink. You will have to excuse letter this time as have not got time to write a letter. Remember me to all at home and ask Mattie if he got my letter.

No I must conclude trusting this letter finds you all at home in the best of health and I hope to hear from you all before long. Don’t forget D address.

I remain

Your loving Brother


So two letters were sent today to Mabel both with almost exactly the same content. It’s most likely that Frank received a letter from Mabel having just posted the first one and decided to send out a quick reply. But it could be that he completely forgot that he had written the first letter. Was Frank that below par? He’s so full of life in the letters and asks after all the family. He certainly doesn’t sound like a soldier suffering from depression or shell shock.

Speaking of family, it’s the first time he’s asked after his mother, Ada, since 17th September. She must be a postwoman as Frank uses the same “knocking” allusion for his Uncle Matt. In fact he doesn’t ask after his parents’ much in all the letters he’s sent home so far. I feel Frank looks up to his Aunt Carrie and Uncle Matt more than he does his own parents. I wonder why the Crawshaw family are so dysfunctional? However, as is often the way, the children seem pretty tight knit and the close bond between Mabel and Frank is undeniable.

Frank mentions Tom yet again. I still haven’t found anything else about him. Tom is on leave so he must have been in active service or a Territorial before the war begun. Frank has his usual moan about my Great Grandfather Bert still being stationed in England – and later, a lack of chocolate in the post. Frank also mentions Horace – we haven’t heard about him since August 1912. This could be one of their cousins, either Horace Yates (born 1903) or Roland Horace Spooner (born 1892). If Frank’s “Horace” is either of this pair, then it’s more likely the latter cousin as he’s the same age as Mabel and Frank. I can’t find any military records I can confirm are him, but Roland Horace Spooner survives the war and, I believe, married an Annie Mary Ashworth in 1924.

Tango appears once more. I’ve previously suggested that Tango is Lilian Webster. But the fact that Frank refers to Uncle straight afterwards indicates that she’s an Aunt and married and perhaps old (in Frank’s eyes at least). Lilian is only 25 and appears to be single. So my assumption seems to be wrong again. Muff must be another of the Webster clan. This needs more research and time I’m afraid, but I will return to this later on.

Frank asks after Dolly in both letters. We haven’t heard about Dolly since Frank “chucked her up” back in June. Frank appears to have had a letter from her. He mentions he had a feeling that she was going to write, which is either very prescient of him or something has made him think about girls other than Jessica. Has something gone on between Frank and Jessica?

I’ll return to the second letter, a postcard, tomorrow.

The Dorsets remained in billets for another day. Major Henry Ernest Walshe (1867-1947), CO of the South Staffordshire Regiment took over command of the Battalion.


Merry and bright

PC to Miss Crawshaw, 29 Strathleven etc franked APO 15 De 14 – chage to Censor No 1611 dated 6-12-14– written in pencil

Dear Till

Just a few lines hoping you are in the best of health and still merry and bright I expect by this time Uncle Matt has received my letter by now. I had a letter from Muff and she is getting on alright and they all wish me the best of luck. The weather out here is very wet at present. How did you enjoy yourself along of Tom, have you heard from Jess lately? Remember me to all at home and also Tango. Now I think this is all the news at present hoping to hear from you soon.

Your loving Brother

Frank xx

6th December 1914

The Dorsets spent another day in billets.

Frank has written another letter home but this one is short  and doesn’t really go into much detail beyond asking after family members. The usual suspects are all there: Uncle Matt, Muff, Tom, Jess and Tango. The main detail to take away from this letter is Frank’s comment about the “very wet” weather. The Dorset war diary has become very short on information lately but the 5th Divisional dairy reports snow, sleet and rain on the 5th December turning to frost on the morning of the 6th.

Isn’t “merry and bright” a lovely phrase? From all the lovely things I’ve heard about my Great Grandmother, it certainly sums up her personality.


The mysterious Brixton Bill

Envelope addressed to Miss Crawshaw, 29 Strathleven Road, date stamped APO 12 No 14 – letter inside dated 13.11.14

Dear Till

How pleased I was to receive you welcome and interesting letter which I received alright. Glad to know that you received my PC quite safe. Wallie is working in the City I bet he fancy his luck a what. So Muff received my letter alright I have not heard from there since and I have forgot the address, don’t forget to remember me to them all, and let me have their address and also Toms I have not heard from him yet. Have answered your Bert’s letter, but have not received the cigarettes yet buck him up. How is Ciss going and did she receive my PC have not heard from her since. Glad to know that all are in the pink at home and that Uncle Matt has got plenty of work, how is Albert still doing the Tango remember me to him and tell him I will drink his health when I see him which I hope will be soon. I have just has two letters from Jess she has been ill this last two or three weeks but am glad to hear that she is getting on alright now. Her mother is knitting me a pair of socks, which she is going to send out.

Yes I expect it is alright on that records, yes I know the song well, we did have a good reception when we arrived in France but we have had some bad times since, and lots of these fellows you can hear singing have gone since then worse luck. How are you getting on still mucking in at Stewarts and still in the pink, you say Aunt is getting on alright and still sorting out her tarts (totts?). Pleased to hear Till that you are going to send me out another parcel, I shall be pleased with the Colegates and the other. What do you say that you are always wondering what I am doing, well it would be a job to tell you, but all I can say id that I am getting on alright and still in the pink, of course we have a few Jack Johnsons come over us at times and they make you get out and get under, the damage they do, is well, they make a hole in the road which you can get into easily they go in for most of their time in wrecking towns with their big shells and busting up churches and graveyards, they are a wicked lot, and we shall finish them up before we have finished, but it will take time and a long time yet, thats my opinion. Ask Uncle Matt if he ever knew the Snellings, only Bill Snelling is out here and he mentioned that he knew the Websters.

Well Till dear the weather out here is getting very cold and also we are getting some wet weather which makes things very uncomfortable, but still the Bhoys are sticking it well. So May got married at last well I didn’t expect she would have got married to him anyway they are a good pair. Remember me to Doris when you next write. Now Till I think this is all the news. Ho (No?) just a minute you ask what I would like for Xmas well Till I would like some underclothing and things like that only tell Aunt not to forget a bit of Xmas duff, only it won’t be any good posting it just before Xmas as I won’t get it so you will have to allow for that. We have seen a good deal of France and Belgium since we have been out here and there are some lovely towns out here. Now I think this is all the news this time trusting to hear from you all soon and remember me to Tango and old Uncle and all at home.

I remain

Your loving Brother

Frank xxx

12th November 1914

Todays’ letter is actually dated 13th November. I am publishing it today because I think that Frank has got the date wrong. He can’t write a letter before its posted: the envelope is stamped 12th November. We can’t blame him for a small mistake. He’s now been in the field for ten days without relief.

I will be returning to the letter over the next couple of days. I’ve done a bit of hunting this evening for Bill Snelling mentioned in the letter and it has started something of a mystery. I have found a William Joseph Snelling born in Lambeth in 1888. There’s also a William Joseph listed in the 1911 Census as living in barracks in Frimley with the Dorsetshire Regiments. Easy enough I thought. But there’s also another William Joseph Snelling, from Blandford, who signs up for the Dorsets at the outbreak of the war and I think their documents have become muddled. Brixton Bill disappears off the face of the earth. I need to untangle them a bit more before I can give anymore information about him.

In the war diary, the Dorsets were again troubled by the “light gun” which seems to have pinpointed the Battalion HQ on the lower edges of Hill 63. The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment 1914-1919 claims that it was 5.9 howitzers that was plaguing their trenches at this time. I wouldn’t call them exactly light. Funnily enough, Frank makes a comment in his letter about Jack Johnsons which is often used as reference to the black smoke given off by bursting high explosive shells fired by the 5.9 inch howitzers, so perhaps the “light gun” reference in the Dorsets’ war diary is a joke?