My granddad’s billet doux from front line

WILLIE Bain Sanders
WILLIE Bain Sanders

A WAR hero’s postcard home to his sweetheart has been preserved forever thanks to his granddaughter.

Linda Coates, 65, has always kept all the literature from her grandfather Willie Bain Sanders’ days with the Third Northumbrian Brigade third battery.

LINDA Coates with the  photograph and active record book of her grandfather Willie Sanders

LINDA Coates with the photograph and active record book of her grandfather Willie Sanders

He was known by his nickname of Sandy and he was a driver who enlisted to the war effort as a 17-year-old in April 1913.

By 1914, he was fighting in France and still had fond thoughts for the woman back home who was his sweetheart, Elsie Foreman from Regent Street in West Hartlepool.

A postcard from France arrived back home in August 1914. It was short and to the point. Willie wrote: “Dear Elsie,

“I hope you are getting on and bright.”

Then, he asks for more correspondence from Elsie as he continued his fight on the front line, telling her he’d written many times and hoped she would do the same.

They were dark days for everyone who fought on the front and Willie was no different. By March, 1916, he was in hospital suffering from pneumonia and not bearing up too well.

Medical records were prepared for him as he got ready to board the ambulance train.

His doctor reported that Willie had “all the symptoms” of acute lobar pneumonia and delirium. His left lung was badly affected. The base of his right lung was little better.

He was so badly traumatised by it that he remained delirious for four days before beginning the painfully slow process of recovery.

Even after he began to pull round, he was ordered to be on a light diet and was observed day and night.

Yet the attrocious French winter may have only been partly to blame for his suffering.

Linda, a retired receptionist from Trimdon Grange with family still in Hartlepool, said: “According to the family, he was gassed while he was fighting but he pulled through.”

In fact, Willie went on to live many years beyond the war.

He came home a hero and lived a long life until the 1970s when he died aged 82. Elsie always remained in his life and became his wife, becoming Linda’s grandmother.

Linda, herself a mother-of-one and grandmother of one and who is married to William, 72, said: “He never really talked much about the war, or about anything. He was very quiet and you had to draw conversation out of him.”

He went on to have a career on the railways during his many years back at home.

l The Mail is marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War throughout 2014. Coverage will be continuing until the centenary of the Bombardment of Hartlepool in December. If you have Great War memories or memorabilia then please contact our newsdesk on (01429) 239380. Get in touch.