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The loneliness felt amongst the men on the front line and the women left behind during WW1 encouraged relationships to start via letters, with many couples getting engaged despite never meeting face to face.
Contemporary newspaper records from the period, which are available to search online at the family history website Genes Reunited, reveal that women were encouraged by local communities to form friendships with lonely soldiers by writing to them.
Newspapers also published lonely heart adverts from soldiers in columns titled “Matrimonial” where men would attempt to meet young girls with the view to marrying them. The correspondences between young girls and lonely soldiers were considered by many as having disastrous consequences with couples mistaking lust for love.
In 1915 the Hull Daily Mail reported that through a local scheme, a housemaid named Mary was able to win the heart of a lonely soldier through sending cigarettes and a bottle of whisky concealed in a cake. The young soldier was so thrilled by her gesture that when on leave he paid Mary a visit and the pair got engaged within 72 hours of first meeting.
In 1915 Bishop Frodsham raised concern in the Cheltenham Chronicle about young girls being allowed to answer advertisements from ‘lonely officers’ without any supervision from wiser women. He described the outcome as often ‘disastrous’ with girls mistaking ‘lust for love’. “Is it wonderful to learn that some such hastily made wife has sought protection in a court of law against a relationship that became intolerable almost at once?”
In 1916, the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reported that a Miss Alice May Bishop attempted to sue a soldier named Edgar Johnson “for a breach of promise on his part to marry her.” Johnson had repeatedly promised to marry her in various letters until he decided to marry someone else.
Despite the moral outrage, women were still encouraged to write to lonely soldiers. In 1914 the Western Daily Press published an article titled “Friends wanted for lonely soldiers” in which they were calling out for friends for lonely soldiers on the front to come forward. “There are many lonely men, who have no friends able to send them small comforts in the shape of tobacco, cigarettes, socks, scarves, gloves.”
In 1915 the Manchester Evening News reported that many soldiers who longed for a companion to write to “communicated privately to any kind-hearted woman or girl who would make herself a godmother.” The willingness to have a male companion meant young women in their droves signed up to be a ‘godmother’. “In a very short time 90,000 godmothers have each adopted a lonely soldier, and the extravagant letters of gratitude with which they receive prove the comfort and joy they are able to give.”
Marriage was certainly a source of hope to the millions of men in the trenches. In 1916, a Clara E.D Moleyns commented in the Woman’s World Western Daily Press that, “In those blood stained trenches, dreams will come to those soldiers that whisper of love and marriage”
She felt that it was not anybody’s place to decide if these war weddings were right or wise because of the ‘abnormal times’.
Rhoda Breakell, Genes Reunited Brand Director said: “We have been doing lots of research into the lives of those left behind during WW1. The number of marriages that were founded on a simple letter correspondence fascinated us. It is very touching to read about the response from local communities and the lengths they went to, to find companions for those men left lonely on the front line, although these relationships were not agreed with by all”
Look through Genes Reunited's online newspaper collection from yesteryear, search the 515 million records, 780 million names and community boards to connect with family past and present. Why not see if you can find a long lost family member, unearth family secrets, discover who you get your looks from, or build your family tree. Visit http://www.genesreunited.co.uk