Moving WW1 letters that were found in a skip are inspiring Hartlepool schools

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A MOVING and insightful collection of personal letters between a soldier and his adoring wife throughout the First World War were discovered in a skip.

And now college lecturer and expert historian Martin Old, who has studied the print off all of the letters and postcards, plans to launch a fascinating project in Hartlepool - involving every school in the town - to find more about the soldier and reunite the letters with his family.

The letters, which stretch from 1912 to 1917, give a detailed account of life on the front line for soldier Willie Griffiths.

But they also give an insight into the everyday concerns of the brave men and women fighting for their country.

In one letter from Willie to his wife Nelly, in the midst of fighting in the war, he tells her not to worry about the money they owe for groceries, assuring her he will sort it when he gets home.

It appears Willie, who is from Sunderland, survived the atrocities of the war.

But it also appears he was uncomfortable with the war.

In one particularly moving letter he says: “It is quite an experience to be out here, if it was only for some other purpose than fighting.

“There is such a lot to see and learn here.

“But to think it is just to try and kill somebody, it sounds like murder.”

Martin, the head of sixth form studies at Hartlepool College of Further Education, remarkably got his hands on the letters after his brother-in-law found them dumped in a council skip in Boldon.

The 54-year-old set about studying them, trying to dig for as much detail as possible in the letters and researching the family history.

But now, to commemorate 100 years since the start of the First World War next year, Martin is going to enlist the help of hundreds of primary and secondary school pupils from across the town as well as students at Hartlepool College of FE.

“Although Willie wasn’t from Hartlepool we want to make this a town project,” explained Martin.

“There are other projects going on but this is a real personal element of the war, the letters are absolutely fascinating but we want to find out even more, I want to reunite these letters with Willie’s family.”

Productions, displays, videos and choir performances linking in to the story behind the letters and postcards are all in Martin’s mind as he plans the project and hopes to get a positive response from the schools in the town and the college’s students.

At the forefront of Willie’s mind in all of his letters are the welfare of his beloved wife and his child, who he adorably refers to as ‘Toddles’.

The series of letters stretching over the six year period follows Willie from his training through to fighting on the front line.

One is addressed from Hartlepool when Martin believes Willie was carrying out his training at the Heugh, on the Headland.

Another letter is one Willie received from his young niece Jackie which suggests he may have lost a relative on the front line during the war.

In the letter Jackie say: “I hope the war will end before you go to France.

“I do not want you to go to France like poor Uncle Norman.”

Martin added: “The letters and postcards are in remarkable condition, to think some of them are more than 100 years old.

“I can only assume they have been found in a loft or in a house somewhere and the person who has came across them hasn’t realised exactly what they are.

“But we are extremely fortunate to have them and we are in a position where we can involve youngsters in what will hopefully be an exciting project looking at the personal side of what went on and what it was like to be fighting during the First World War.”