Deep in the archives of IWM lie tens of thousands of letters from British and Commonwealth troops serving on the front line in conflicts from World War I through to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. They represent a unique treasure trove for historians and the general reader alike. These letters tell the true story of war directly from the pen of those experiencing it, and a more moving collection of writing could hardly be imagined. Take the farewell letter from Sergeant Francis Herbert Gautier to his daughter Marie in April 1916, as he lay dying in a hospital in Essex: ‘I am writing because I want you in after years to know how dearly I loved you, I know you are too young now to keep me in your memory.’ His son Albert was also killed at Ypres. Or Lance Corporal Fred Baker who wrote in October 1942: ‘I was always afraid of losing you, now the tables have turned and that is it I that could be lost.’
Andrew Roberts believes that ‘letters home to loved ones have a raw power denied to almost all other epistolary writing. Written for the most part without thought for publication … they try to make the seemingly impossible connection: between the writer who has seen war and the reader who generally has not.’ Love, Tommy, published in association with IWM, is a selection of some of the most emotionally powerful of the letters in the archives. The correspondence includes expressions of love and fear, which sit alongside amusing anecdotes, grumbles about rations, and thoughtful reflections. Together they reveal how, despite the passage of time, many experiences of fighting men in countless wars and battles throughout history are essentially the same.