A collection of beautifully embroidered Christmas cards and postcards, sent home from the battlefields of the First World War by a Durham Light Infantry soldier, has been donated to Durham Record Office.
Andrew Miller, a Gateshead miner who enlisted in the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) in 1915, sent the cards to his wife Ellen and his children Isabel and James for two-and-a-half years.
Now, a century later, friends of the Miller family have donated the delicately embroidered correspondence.
In a card dated Christmas Eve 1916, Private Miller told his daughter that he hoped “Santa will bring you a nice big doll and cradle.”
“I bid you bonjour,” he continued, “I hope you will be a good little girl for your mummy until Daddy comes home.”
Unfortunately, Private Miller never did return to Gateshead. The donation of the cards prompted staff and volunteers from Durham Record Office to try to find out more about the soldier.
Charlotte Barron, Durham County Council’s principal museums and collections manager, said, “He enlisted in the army aged 32, leaving behind his wife and two children in Gateshead’s Cramer Street and joining the 4 DLI reserve stationed at Forest Hall.”
“He then moved to 10 DLI and sailed with the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France a week before Christmas 1915, and by 1918 he was fighting with 5 DLI.”
“During his service, he sent beautifully embroidered cards home to his wife and his children, who he affectionately named his ‘little pets’.”
“None of the cards mention any specific details of what the First World War was really like as censors removed any mention of operational details that might have proven of value to the enemy.”
“Instead they speak of birthdays – including Ellen’s on December 19th – and Christmases, and how one day soon Andrew will return from ‘somewhere in France’ and they will meet again.”
However, following a message dated December 1917, the cards suddenly stopped coming. It would be many months before Private Miller’s family would find out what happened.
Peter Nelson, a DLI Collection volunteer, carried out research into the cards and discovered what happened to Private Miller. Mr Nelson said, “It was some time before the family found out that their beloved husband and father was no longer missing and that he had lost his life during a German attack on May 27th 1918 that claimed the lives of almost 700 DLI soldiers.”
A report by Major A.L. Raimes of 5 DLI stated, “On the 27th Day of May the German artillery spoke with a mighty and awful voice during an event in which casualties of the 5th DLI were 24 officers and 650 men.”
Many years later, Ellen and Isabel moved to the south of England, where they were looked after by their neighbour Barbara Angell and her daughter Josephine.
When Isabel died, Josephine inherited the cards and she has now donated them to the DLI Collection archives.