Letter to an Unknown Soldier by Iris Anne Lewis
I hope you are still enjoying the war. It’s good that you have all your
Kempsford pals with you in the battalion, though it’s strange here in the village with no young men, except Joe Howard of course. He helps out on Lower Farm but it’s not good for him, Mum says, with his chest. That’s why he didn’t go to war. He coughs and wheezes all the time. It didn’t stop Mrs Gilbert giving him a white feather last Sunday. It’s wicked, Mum says, he can’t help his poor health.
Squire Gilbert was there, too. I don’t like him. He seems to like us, though.
“And how’s that boy of yours, Mrs Preston?” he asked Mum. “Still fighting for King and country. Capital.” Mum and I bobbed a curtsey. “Now there’s a son to be proud of.” And he stared at Mrs Howard.
Mrs Gilbert runs a knitting circle. All the women have to go to her big barn on
Thursday afternoons. All except Mrs Howard. She’s not allowed. “We are knitting for heroes,” Mrs Gilbert boomed. “Only mothers who bore sons with backbone are allowed to knit for our brave boys.”
I go along too. I’ve already knitted socks and now I’m knitting a balaclava. I
hope I’ve spelt that right. It’s a funny name for a hat. It looks odd too. Mum says it’s to keep you warm in winter. We’ll be sending out a parcel soon, so that you get them before the cold weather starts.
It’s summer here. I wonder what it’s like where you are? It’s so far away. I asked the vicar. He says it’s quite like the countryside around here, flat and with lots of fields.
I’ve been having dreams about the fields of Flanders. It’s harvest time and the
wheat is standing tall and proud. Dotted amongst the golden ears are poppies. A wind is blowing. The wheat sways this way and that until it seems the whole field is rippling with gold and flashes of scarlet. All the time there is more scarlet and less gold. The wheat is scythed down and only the poppies remain. Then I am no longer outside but in a big round building with a high curved ceiling. Although it is indoors it is snowing but the snow is stained with blood. The snowflakes flutter down until the whole floor is coloured red. And then I wake up.
I told the vicar about it today. He looked at me through his thick round spectacles and said “Oh dear.” Then he told me a prayer I should say every evening just before going to sleep and then I’ll be protected. It’s bedtime now, so I’ll tell you rather than just say it to myself, then we’ll both be safe.
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.
All my love,