Men from Doncaster serving in various theatres of war all across the globe sent letters home to their wives, parents, siblings and children. They often enclosed souvenirs and tokens of their love.
In return, Doncaster people sent comfort packs out to the Front, giving a reminder of home to the area’s servicemen.
Silk postcards, 1914–18
Embroidered silk postcards were first produced in about 1900 as a novelty item, but their popularity soared from the beginning of the First World War. Their beautiful, colourful embroidery and sentimental messages made them a favourite choice with members of the armed forces fighting in France to send to their loved ones back home. As many as ten million cards with a variety of different images may have been produced.
Many servicemen chose a card embroidered with a sentiment such as ‘To my dear Mother’ or ‘My thoughts are with you.’ Others preferred a more generic souvenir card. Then there are seasonal cards, bearing a greeting such as ‘Happy New Year’ or ‘Merry Christmas’. Finally, some have a patriotic image or message, such as a national flag or a regimental badge. A few cards contained a pocket with an additional cardboard message inside.
John Henry Sharper
John Henry Sharper, known as Harry, was born in Hartlepool in 1885, and moved to Doncaster as a child. In 1907 he married Annie, and their son Dixon Taylor was born a year later. Harry was working as a railway clerk when the war broke out, and he enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery towards the end of 1915. He wrote to Annie from the trenches, promising to be a better husband to her on his return. He was killed by a shell while on observation duty on 22 March 1917 after only two months on the front line. He was buried at Arras Cemetery.
Arthur Eden was born in 1895 at Starbeck, near Harrogate, to Thomas and Annie Eden. When the War broke out he was living at 15 Church Street, Bentley, in Doncaster. He joined the 10th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment in July 1915 and regularly wrote to his mother from the trenches. In one letter he explains that the doctor ordered him to spend two weeks out of the trenches, which suggests that he was suffering from trench foot. This was an infection of the foot caused by standing in cold, wet mud for hours at a time, and could lead to gangrene if left untreated. Arthur Eden was killed at Ypres on 3 March 1916 aged just 20 along with three comrades when a German shell landed in his trench. He was buried in France.
From Mexborough with Love
Miriam Shaw was born into a theatrical family. She was the daughter of trapeze-artist-turned miner John ‘Blondin’ Shaw and she worked at the Hippodrome in Mexborough. On the outbreak of war, Miriam was keen to do her bit for the war effort. She sent a comfort pack to the front, probably packed with cigarettes, chocolate and other provisions designed to lift soldiers’ morale. She enclosed a photograph of herself in with the pack.
The pack reached local soldier Sergeant Reg Bradley, who wrote to Miriam to tell her that her photograph: ‘adorns the wall of one of our dugouts and myself and one or two boys wish the real thing was there to have a talk with us’ He encouraged Miriam to write back, sending a photograph of himself in police uniform. On Reg’s return to England, the pair met, developed a relationship and became engaged. However, the relationship didn’t last. It became obvious to Miriam that Reg was a ‘ladies’ man’ and she broke off the engagement, making the symbolic gesture of smashing up the engagement ring Reg had given her with a hammer!
With thanks to Mrs Pauline Gibbons for sharing her mother’s story.