LETTERS TO MAM
HOW SOLDIERS SPARED FAMILY TRUTH OF FRONT LINE HORRORS
THE last thing any child wants to do is worry their mum.
When that child is fighting on the front line in the First World War, it becomes quite difficult.
And those difficulties have been thrown into the spotlight by the discovery of more than 100 letters sent by three brothers to their Swansea mother.
The chatty letters reveal little of the horrors faced by the men, and could almost have been written as holiday postcards.
But a diary kept by one of them, unseen by their mum, reveals darker fears, and documents young adults growing into manhood amid the terrors of war unfolding around them.
For the best part of the past 100 years, the letters and diary have remained in the keeping of one Swansea family, until a relative was given the opportunity to share the story of the Eustis brothers on the centenary of the ending of the the Great War.
And the material proved invaluable for Dr Gethin Matthews, a relative of the three men, who happens to be a lecturer in Swansea University’s history department. The stories are collected in a new book published to coincide with this weekend’s commemorations, launched at Mynyddbach Chapel, which the brothers attended and where two are buried.
Dr Matthews said: “This book is based on more than 100 letters penned by three brothers from Mynyddbach during the First World War.
“Richard, Gabriel and Ivor Eustis wrote home about a range of different issues as the war was being waged, keeping the family bonds strong during their absence. The dynamics of the family are revealed in letters full of sibling rivalry and affection.
“I didn’t know much about them until a few years ago, when by chance I met a relative who had kept them in a box.”
Richard Eustis was 21 and a collier in the Penlan district, as well as in the Territorial Army which he joined in 1913.
He got a two-week camping holiday in Aberystwyth after signing up, but 13 months later was sent to fight. His brother Gabriel, who was in the Royal Navy, was a tin plate worker in Morriston and was still in school when the war started, but was conscripted in 1916.
Dr Matthews said: “The letters reveal they do not know what is happening around them. They
send them to their mother and auntie, and they all have a subtext; ‘Do not worry about me, I’ll be okay.
“You see the family dynamics, the boys graduating into men, being forced to grow up quickly.”
“They write to keep their mother happy, and they are sharing what they are up to, but also shielding them from the nasty aspects.”
The book’s title, Having A Go At The Kaiser, comes from a letter written by Ivor Eustis exactly 100 years ago from the book’s launch.
On November 8, 1918, knowing that the war was just about to end, he wrote back to his mother that Kaiser Bill was surely quaking in his boots, and added that he and his two brothers “have each had a ‘go’ at him, somewhere or other”.
The book also features a significant reveal later on, as the story of the family unfolds. But Dr Matthews preferred to keep that twist for readers of the book, which was launched at Mynyddbach Chapel on Thursday and is published by the University of Wales Press.
Brothers Richard and Gabriel Eustis.