Leeds University Library

First World War love letter

Published 01 February 2012

First World War love letter from the Liddle Collection

It's St Valentine's Day this month and we decided to celebrate with a feature on the love letter.

As more of us communicate using new technologies, such as social networking sites, emails and texts, the written letter has become a rarity and the love letter equally so. Love letters were once the only means by which couples who were apart could keep in touch, particularly in war time, and it is a letter written from a soldier fighting in the First World War to his fiancée that we are showcasing this month. The letter is from the Liddle Collection, which comprises letters and diaries, official and personal papers, photographs, newspapers, artwork and recollections mainly from the First World War, with some Second World War material.

This particular letter is of interest for many reasons, firstly because it is written by a member of the Austrian cavalry fighting alongside the German army, to his English fiancée, offering a unique insight into the experiences of a young soldier fighting the allied forces. As a piece of social history it reveals a politically complex relationship that may have had difficulty surviving a war which divided Europe. How would their relationship be viewed by family and friends on both sides? It is also an example of how important a love letter might be in sustaining the spirit through dangerous times. 

There are two significant dates mentioned on the first page with which we can contextualise the letter. It was written on 3 August 1914, the same day Germany declared war on France. Two days earlier the writer describes his promotion to lieutenant and his remorse that his "comrades" were being sent to the Russian frontier without him, corresponding with the date that Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914. What is made more poignant is his apology to his sweetheart, whom he addresses as "My most dearly beloved Baby", for the state of his handwriting, explaining that he is writing the letter on a moving train journeying towards the Eastern front, confirming his destination, and unfortunately his fate.  Expressing his wish for a better photograph of his fiancée he writes "...I must make do with the little one, which I always have next to my heart and will have till I die." He was 21 years old when he was killed in action just ten days after writing the letter.

Letter from Liddle Collection ref: GE24