Before the invention of texts and emails, letters were the fastest way of communication. In times of war, a letter must have had huge importance to the recipient, waiting for news from a loved one. Once sewn together in a timeline, the letters within the Bankes Archive tell a story of Dorset at war, and show a heartwarming side to a horrific historical event.
On 16th December 1914, Henrietta Bankes was sent a letter that described in detail the work that was being done by the Wimborne division of the British Red Cross (D-BKL/H/P/1/29). Not only were many divisions setting up temporary hospitals for the sick and wounded coming home from the frontline, but ‘A large number of motor cars’ were donated so soldiers could be picked up from the train station. Towards the end of this letter, Henrietta is thanked for her generosity in the past, which had led to them attaining the ‘needed standard of efficiency and to obtain sufficient equipment to undertake this excellent and patriotic work’. Henrietta is also praised for answering the writer’s appeal when the war began.
This letter shows the generosity from the Bankes estate during such hard times was well needed. The descriptions of the many hospital beds being set up in various houses, and the relief of all these soldiers having somewhere to recover in the winter months must have been reassuring during the turmoil.
Another letter sent to Henrietta, (D-BKL/H/P/1/30) this time on the 17th May 1915, is from Charles Barter of the 47th London Division. Barter writes to Henrietta about his experience at the Battle of Festubert, which started on the 15th May 1915.
He tells Henrietta how he has been put in command of a temporary force, ‘officially designated as ‘Barter’s force’’ and that there are ‘50,000 men, including a very large amount of artillery’. Barter also describes how they have been fighting for thirty hours, with ‘satisfactory results’. This letter gives a fascinating insight into the complexities of war and a detailed picture of life on the front line.
We believe Barter must have been a family friend as he also wrote to Henry John Ralph Bankes on the 28th September 1915 (D-BKL/H/P/1/31). This letter is very touching, and again, Charles is writing in the ‘midst of a big fight’ to tell Ralph about his division. He speaks of reconnaissances in the front line, and how his division captured three lines of German trenches and have maintained them, but more heart wrenching is his comment: ‘Of course in this funny war one never knows what may happen’.
Letters are a window into the past that not everyone gets to see. Reading through these letters within the Bankes Archive, in remembrance of everyone who helped in the effort of WWI, has brought some amazing stories to light.
Author: Chloe Taylor