It’s difficult for us to understand the hardships endured by soldiers serving in the trenches of the First World War. And this is obviously something to be thankful for.
But is possible to get some insight into their lives from the letters they sent home.
In 1917, Regimental Sergeant-Major James Milne was serving with the 4th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders.
On the 20th of July, Milne and his men were informed they were about to go ‘over the top’ and cross no man’s land.
An experienced soldier, Milne knew he was unlikely to survive the assault. Whilst awaiting the order to attack, he scribbled the following final message to his wife:
My own beloved wife,
I do not know how to start this letter. The circumstances are different from any under which I ever wrote before. I am not to post it but will leave it in my pocket, if anything happens to me someone will perhaps post it. We are going over the top this forenoon and only God in Heaven knows who will come out of it alive. I am going into it now, Dearest sure that I am in his Hands and that whatever happens I look to him in this world and the world to come.
If I am called my regret is that I leave you and my Bairns, but I leave you all to His great mercy and goodness knowing that He will look over you all and watch you. I trust in him to bring me through, but should he decree otherwise then though we do not know his reason, we know it must be best. I go to him with your dear face the last vision on earth I shall see and your name upon my lips. You, the best of women. You will look after by Darling Bairns for me and tell them how their daddy died.
Oh! How I love you all and as I sit here waiting I wonder what you are doing at home. I must not do that. It is hard enough sitting waiting. We may move at any minute. When this reaches you for me there will be no more war, only eternal peace and waiting for you.
You must be brave my Darling, for my sake for I leave you the Bairns. It is a legacy of struggle for you but God will look after you and we shall meet again when there will be no more parting. I am to write no more sweetheart. I know you will read my old letters and keep them for my sake, and that you will love me or my memory till we meet again.
May God in his mercy look over you and bless you all til that day we shall meet again in his own Good time. May he in that same mercy preserve me today.
Eternal love from
Yours for Ever and Ever,
Incredibly, Milne came through the attack - and the rest of the war. The following year, he returned home to Scotland and was reunited with his wife and children.
Milne’s letter is currently on display in the Imperial War Museum's ‘First World War Remembered’ exhibition.
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