War poetry and letters

As the war progressed, men serving away from home kept in touch with their loved ones through postcards and letters. The majority of these were personal correspondences, but some soldiers wrote of their experiences directly to newspapers.


Sometimes men simply wanted to let their families know that they were all right, but didn't have the time or materials to write a proper letter or postcard. In this case, they could use a pre-printed Field Service postcard like the one shown at the top right. The sender chose the appropriate message from the options and sent it off.  Another popular practice was for men to have their photograph taken in uniform and then have the photograph printed as postcards. These were given to family and friends as mementos or were used to send messages back home.


The full length portrait at the right middle is of Thomas Moore, a soldier from Eaglesham. He wrote a poem in memory of the picturesque nature of his home village, as these verses show:

'And now we're on our homeward way,
Approaching the close of another day,
The sun is set; we must not stay
So - to Eaglesham.'
'A downward journey now is ours,
We lightly tread as though on flowers
There's only happiness in such hours
At Eaglesham.'

The events and experiences of the war inspired many people to express their feelings and views in poetry, and many famous verses came out of the conflict.  Newspapers often printed poetry by local men who sent in their work from the front, and also by people experiencing loss and grief at home.

Bombardier Angus Kerr's poem, Barrhead News, 15th February 1918

(In memory of my best friend who fell among the honoured brave).

No marble pile bespeaks his tomb, God knows,
Nor flowers their fragrance shed for him, I wist,
Naught, save the chilling winter wind that blows,
His grave caresses - and the morning mist.

Yet always as the seasons come again,
A mother's heart will treasure mem'ries deep;
And oft rememb'ring, live an hour of pain,
Alone, where no cold world may see her weep.

Grim reaper, not thy unrespecting hand
Can spoil me of true friendship's closest ties!
When daisies spread their carpet o'er the land,
Then I, who was his comrade, close my eyes,
And breathe a pray'r for him, for did not he,
In giving all for country, die for me?


As well as poetry, letters from soldiers serving at the front were often published in local papers and allow us a glimpse of the war that was raging abroad. Soldiers would write directly to the paper or to their families, who would pass on interesting letters that they had received.

These letters would have particular resonance with local people who would know the men who were writing. They give a vivid account of life at the front telling of their own personal experiences of the action, life in the trenches and also sometimes the funny situations in which they found themselves.   Of course, letters only came through after being passed by the censor to avoid breaches in national security.

The example below from the Barrhead News, 15th October 1915, is from a Lance Corporal Norman Perry of the 8th Seaforths. It gives a rather dashing report of the Seaforths winning out against the Prussian Guard at Loos.  By comparison, it is followed by Barrhead soldier Alex Lafferty's letter to his brother William in September 1915. Alex was serving in France, and describes an encounter with enemy forces.

Lance-Corporal Norman Perry's letter, Barrhead News, 15th October 1915

'I received your welcome letter and parcel for which I thank you very much. It arrived the night before we went into action, and you may be sure the contents were just splendid. I managed to come through without being wounded but had a few narrow shaves. My watch was blown to smithereens by a bullet, and I had a small piece cut out of my leg with shrapnel. I never expected to come through it alive and can only thank God for coming through. After getting a short distance back from the firing line I got a fair sample of gas from a shell which burst close to me, but a short time in a dressing station put me right and I was able to join my regiment. We were up against the Prussian Guard but we made pretty short work with them, and there wasn't much of the "Guard" about them when we had finished. We captured their trenches, the mines there and also Hill 70, which you would see in the papers of the 27th inst. It was a day on which the Seaforths shone out, and every officer and man proved himself to be a soldier and a hero. The Barrhead and Nitshill boys got pretty hard hit. We were to take Hill 70 within four days, but it only took the gallant kilties four hours to do it.'

Alex Lafferty's letter

'We had a hot time of it that last visit of ours to the trenches. We got a new trench to dig about halfway between ours and the Germans, and the first night they opened machine guns and rapid fire on us. Then we heard nothing but howling and moaning - they had caught us napping, twenty wounded and two killed, but we stuck to our work...'

'This was where the laugh came in. After we had it all finished nicely, and had been relieved, the Germans occupied it - cheeky wasn't it - and had to be bombed out of it, before they would shift...'