God be with you

On September 29th, 1918, months before the end of World War I, a freshly assigned physician at Camp Devens military base in Massachusetts wrote the following letter to a friend and fellow doctor, and described a terrifying influenza epidemic that was now killing hundreds of his camp’s soldiers each day. The death toll in this

There is no danger down here

On October 31st, 1918, as the First World War neared its end, celebrated war poet and officer of the Second Manchesters Wilfred Owen wrote home to his mother. Sadly, this would be his last letter. Four days later–exactly a century ago–Owen was shot dead as he led his company across the Sambre–Oise Canal. His mother

There was a war, a great war, and now it is over

On November 11th of 1918, the First World War effectively came to an end with the signing of the armistice—an agreement between Allied and German forces to end, with immediate effect, all hostilies and withdraw troops from the battlefield. Peace, at last, after four years of fighting and more than 16 million deaths. Shortly after the armistice

Brown is as pretty as white

W. E. B. Du Bois accomplished more than most during a lifetime rich with admirable achievements. In 1895, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D at Harvard; he co-founded, in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an organisation that has fought tirelessly for racial equality since its inception;

Your Loving Mother

On January 22nd of 1919, during her freshman year at college, 19-year-old Margaret Mitchell received word that her mother had fallen ill as a result of a deadly flu pandemic that was sweeping the globe, along with instructions from her father to return home. A few days later, she did just that, only to be greeted

One of the most original thinkers I have ever met

In November of 1911, two of the world’s most revered scientists, Henri Poincaré and Marie Curie, were asked to write letters of recommendation for a 32-year-old man who was looking to become a professor of theoretical physics at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), and who, 6 years previous, had authored a renowned set

My husband is not a common man

In 1905, George Bernard Shaw received a piece of fan mail from an aspiring playwright initially known only as “Miss Charming” that would ultimately result in the following unique letter. Miss Charming was in fact a 24-year-old lady named Erica Cotterill, and Shaw was so intrigued by her approach that he replied with advice, thus beginning

For your first Christmas

In December of 1915, as his infant grandson began to enjoy his very first Christmas, 60-year-old American journalist and diplomat Walter H. Page decided to mark the occasion by writing him the following letter — a wonderful, heartwarming celebration of their common interests which, as a result of its charm, was later published for wider consumption.

The sacrifice is not in vain

In November of 1918, just days after the end of World War I was announced, a young soldier named Richard Hogan was hospitalised in France with influenza. Two weeks later, he passed away. Shortly after his burial, Maude Fisher, the American Red Cross nurse who had cared for him during his final days, wrote the

I was meant to be a composer

In 1919, at which point he was just 9-years-old, Samuel Barber wrote the following letter to his mother and left it on his desk for her to find. She did, and a year later Barber began to compose his first opera, “The Rose Tree.” He was still only 26 years of age when, in 1936, he

The real heroes are the parents

In July of 1918, whilst serving as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I, Ernest Hemingway was seriously wounded in a mortar attack that resulted in both legs being “riddled” with shrapnel and a six month stay in a Milan hospital. Three months after the incident, as he recuperated, 19-year-old Hemingway wrote the following letter

Ought women not to be abolished altogether?

On March 28th of 1912, an eminent bacteriologist named Almroth Wright wrote a lengthy, pompous letter to The Times in which he argued that women should not be allowed to vote, and in fact should be kept away from politics altogether, due to their supposed psychological and physiological deficiencies. Unsurprisingly his opinion generated many responses, the best

I refuse to be cheated out of my deathbed scene

In 1912, after she called him “the Old Maid of novelists” in a scathing review of his new book, Marriage, journalist and author Rebecca West met and fell in love with H. G. Wells. The often-explosive affair that resulted lasted for some months, until, in March of 1913, Wells — 26 years her senior and already a

You must deliver marketable goods

Late-1914, an aspiring young writer named Max Fedder sent a copy of his manuscript, “A Journal of One Who Is to Die,” to Jack London, the author responsible for such works as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and, most relevantly, Martin Eden — the bleak story of a young man battling to become a writer. The

His heart is not in his work

Before becoming a full-time author, Sherwood Anderson worked as a copy-writer for a Chicago-based advertising agency named Taylor Critchfield Co, and it wasn’t until 1918, by which time he was 41 years of age, that he was able to take the leap and devote himself to his craft. When it came to resigning from the

We want more Coca Cola

[We now have a postal address. More details here.] As World War I continued in April of 1918 and temperatures soared in Waco, Texas, 4’000 U.S. soldiers at Camp MacArthur faced a morale-denting dilemma in the form of a Coca Cola shortage. Obviously this was an unacceptable situation, and so, as troops faced “defeat at

Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration

In July of 1917, mid-World War I, following a period of convalescent leave during which he had decided to make a stand by not returning to duty, celebrated poet Siegfried Sassoon sent the following open letter to his commanding officer and refused to return to the trenches. The reaction was widespread, thanks in no small part to

Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind

January 3rd, 1913. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt writes to the founder of the Eugenics Record Office, prominent eugenicist Charles Davenport, and offers his views on eugenics; a highly controversial movement whose aim – essentially the eradication of “defective” humans in society by way of selective breeding – gained much attention in the 1930/40s when more

Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.

Author and poet Gertrude Stein had an approach to writing that divided audiences, the unimpressed of whom found her rhythmical repetition and stream-of-consciousness style simply impenetrable and nonsensical. For others, it was, and remains, a breath of fresh air; something unique, to be savoured. In 1912, having just read one of her more repetitive manuscripts,

The first mail to be carried over the Atlantic

Alcock & Brown shortly after takeoff | Image: Wikimedia On June 14th of 1919 at St. John’s, Newfoundland, Captain John Alcock and his navigator Lt. Arthur Brown made history as they began what would become the world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight. For their troubles they were awarded £10,000 by the Daily Mail, a newspaper then-renowned

To: My widow

On January 17th of 1912, following years of preparation, British explorer Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and his team reached the South Pole — an incredible feat that was quickly overshadowed upon arrival by the news that the race had already been won 33 days previous, by the Norwegians. Scott’s team, demoralised and tired, soon began their ill-fated

I hope you will be a great and successful actress some day

Mid-1916, in response to a piece of fan mail from an aspiring young actress from London, England, Charlie Chaplin somehow found the time to write her the following letter of thanks. At this point in his career, although still aged just 27, Chaplin was already directing and producing the majority of his many films; the letterhead

I sure am thinking of you

On October 8th, 1916, seven months after his first comic strip debuted in the Chicago Herald, 24-year-old cartoonist Elzie Segar took out a sheet of his employers’ letterhead and wrote and illustrated the following love letter to then-girlfriend, Myrtle Johnson. Three years later, by which point he had married his sweetheart, his third comic strip – Thimble

Father, you asked me recently why I am afraid of you

Growing up in the shadow of someone as loud, opinionated and aggressive as his father was almost too much to bear for novelist Franz Kafka. In fact, so emotionally scarring was their relationship that, on November 10th of 1919, then-36-year-old Franz began to write the following desperate letter to Hermann in an effort to candidly

We are sinking fast

Two telegrams, both sent within hours of each other and both painting an entirely different picture of the same tragic situation. The first, received by S. S. Birma at approximately 01:40hrs on April 15th, 1912, is the last complete distress call to have left the radio room of RMS Titanic, the passenger steamship which –

I am quite sad that you are ill

Today I bring you a vibrantly illustrated ‘Get Well Soon’ note – presumably coloured in such a way so as to cheer up its recipient – sent to renowned French poet Jean Cocteau in 1916 during a short period of bad health. The letter was sent to him by his friend, Pablo Picasso; a man

FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT

October, 1918: Trapped behind enemy lines in Charlevaux, France, and surrounded by hundreds of German troops, the few hundred surviving members of the Lost Battalion soon had another problem to deal with in the form of friendly fire. His men rapidly succumbing to the onslaught and with two birds already shot down, Major Charles Whittlesay

Dear Mayor of New York City

It’s no wonder that in a city as large and populous as New York, a steady stream of letters are written to the Mayor throughout the year by its citizens, the majority having been penned for different reasons. Below are just four such letters that I have plucked – with permission – from a truly

The Cottingley Fairies

In July of 1917, teenage cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths took two photographs – the first of Frances with a group of Fairies, the second of Elsie with a Gnome – in the garden of Elsie’s home in England. Three years later, after various experts had incorrectly confirmed the photographs’ authenticity, Sherlock Holmes creator

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Two years into World War I, on January 16th of 1917, the following coded telegram was sent by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann (via the German Ambassador in Washington) to the German Ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. In it, Zimmermann told Eckardt to approach the President of Mexico with a view to forming a

He put up a great fight against Fritz

Below is a letter sent by the Australian Red Cross to the wife of Leslie Clark – a soldier who perished whilst fighting in France during the First World War – 8 months after her husband’s death. The letter confirms his passing and then, using a quote from a fellow soldier, tells of a previous

I ♥ U

Experts believe the following love letter to be approximately 100 years old. If you have some time to kill, I’d suggest attempting to solve the code yourself before looking at the transcript. The idea’s simple: each image represents a piece of text, e.g. ☼day would translate as Sunday. Good luck. Slightly larger photo here. More info

How noble a woman’s heart can be

On July 17th of 1915, Winston Churchill wrote the following letter, sealed it in an envelope marked, “To be sent to Mrs Churchill in the event of my death,” and then rejoined the army. Luckily, his wife, Clementine, never had reason to open it. Churchill became Prime Minister 25 years later. Transcript follows. (Source: University of