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A letter from 1918: A message from an Ipswich airman to his son

PUBLISHED: 11:30 19 October 2018 | UPDATED: 11:44 19 October 2018

Christine Spall holds up the prized letter with a portrait of Henry Walter Spall with his wife Violet Spall and ten children Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Christine Spall holds up the prized letter with a portrait of Henry Walter Spall with his wife Violet Spall and ten children Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Archant

An Ipswich pensioner discovered a 100-year-old letter written to one of her relatives during the First World War.

Henry sits in the front row and with his son directly behind him, fourth in from the right Picture: CONTRIBUTEDHenry sits in the front row and with his son directly behind him, fourth in from the right Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Christine Spall, 76, from Ipswich, found the letter dated February 27 1918 making it a significant heirloom as the centenary of the 1918 armistice looms.

The letter details a message from Airman Henry Walter Spall to his second son Horace Henry Spall, Christine’s father-in-law.

The 100 year old writing is in pencil, covering both sides of a small A5 piece of paper which is headed: “British Expeditionary Force” the name of the British army that fought in Flanders and France during the conflict.

Mrs Spall said: “I was out in the garden yesterday about to mow the lawn and it started raining.

The letter is written on a small piece of paper headed with the words: British Expeditionary Force Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYThe letter is written on a small piece of paper headed with the words: British Expeditionary Force Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

“So I went inside and decided that I would finally have a sort through this box of old things and I found this in an envelope.

“I thought it might be interesting.

Mrs Spall knew very little about the letter but after a little digging it was discovered that Henry served in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), later the RAF, during the First World War.

Despite the dangers and bloodshed, the letter doesn’t mention the war at all.

The letter doesn't mention the war but reminds Horace to get on with his spelling Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYThe letter doesn't mention the war but reminds Horace to get on with his spelling Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Mrs Spall said: “I don’t think they were allowed to tell anyone any details about where they had been in case it was intercepted so the letter doesn’t talk about the war.”

The letter from Henry begins: “My dear sonny, many thanks for your kind and loving letter and to say I was glad to hear all of you at home was quite well.

It continues on to talk about Horace “misbehaving” with Henry encouraging his young son to do well for his next school report.

The letter briefly mentions the boy’s paper round, his favourite school teacher Mr Senton who is described as a “funny one” and the an anniversary held at Burlington Chapel.

Mrs Spall found the letter in an old box Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYMrs Spall found the letter in an old box Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

It finishes: “Well I don’t know what else to say to you now... God bless you lad, from your loving Dad.”

Mrs Spall doesn’t know much more about Henry.

She does know he was a joiner and carpenter who lived in a tiny two-bedroom house in Ipswich with his ten children but, according to British War Museum records, enlisted in 1918.

Mrs Spall said: “I think a lot of people just got on with life, that’s what the letter shows.

“When you are younger you just don’t think about it, you don’t think to ask, and I don’t remember anyone of my kids asking: ‘what did grandad do in the war?’

“I wish I had asked my parents more now.”

We can only speculate as records only show Henry’s date of birth, the year he enlisted and the names and births of some of his children.

From the date of the letter and the heading we can guess that he was part of the RFC force which supported the allies during a huge German offensive throughout the spring of 1918.

The RFC provided vital air support as the British took part in a controlled retreat the next month the RFC and Royal Naval Air Service merged into the new RAF and continued to provide vital support for the army.

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