Recently I had the pleasure of piecing together an interesting fabric of time from the threads of communication I discovered on the back of a pile of old postcards. These made their way to me after a cleanout at an old rural antique/ opportunity shop owned by the family of an acquaintance, which had been boarded over for more than 25 years.
‘Your loving cousin Dick’ follows the movements of a young Australian serviceman across three years of World War I, from his arrival in Egypt in early 1916, to his eventual preparation for repatriation in 1919. An enthusiastic correspondent, Dick endeavours to write weekly postcards to his young cousin Lou, a school student back in Melbourne. Although the details of Dick’s military activities are sparse – as you would expect given the threat of spies – the reader is still able to establish that, after a period of training in the Cairo camps, Dick made his way to the troop facilities in Sutton Veny, England.
‘Wounded during a charge’ in 1917, most likely in Northern France or Belgium, Dick returns to the Sutton Veny hub, and after which appears to spend much of the remaining years of the war in the Wiltshire region. A variety of wartime and post-wartime training operations were ongoing during that period, so it’s possible Dick was employed in these, particularly if not returning to the front due to the injuries he had sustained in 1917, or perhaps due to being given an important administrative role.
Over 1917 and 1918 Dick enjoys visits to the local townships and Boscombe beach in the nearby south coast seaside town of Bournemouth, as well as travelling beyond the immediate area and on to London, Sheffield and Derbyshire, Bury St Edmunds and Edinburgh. Whether these more distant destinations were part of his army duties or purely for leisure isn’t made clear, but throughout the eighty individual pieces of correspondence, Dick’s caring nature shines through as he (without fail) enquires about the health of Lou and his mother, wishes Lou well in his academic endeavours, asks about local activities such as the ‘Red Cross Day in West Melbourne’, and often reminds to be ‘remembered to all those that know me’. Every card is signed off with ‘Your loving cousin Dick’ and young Lou is shielded from the true horrors of war – Dick goes to great lengths to assure him and his mother that he is in good health.
Dick accurately predicts on one card, dated 4th November 1918, that the Allies’ efforts were going well and that the war would soon end (Armistice Day, marking the German surrender, was in fact one week later on 11th November), and in March 1919 joyfully announces that he is finally to return home in ‘10 or 12 weeks’, which would have coincided with the signing of The Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, the formal end of World War One.
With no surnames or addresses being apparent – all the postcards are without stamps or post marks and were probably either inserted in envelopes, or included within larger packages, their contents to be distributed by the addressee, possibly Dick’s parents – there is no way of knowing whether Dick made it home safely to be reunited with his cousin, Aunt, and broader family, or indeed how his or Lou’s lives unfolded from that moment in time.
The gift that remains is merely a narrow glimpse at a period of turbulence, tragedy and adventure, through the eyes of a young man abroad in the service of his country, whose heart always remained firmly at home.