A Letter from the Front

September 1915

By Jennifer Ayto

'The Steamer' public house in Welwyn today
Jennifer Ayto
'The Steamer' public house in Welwyn today
Jennifer Ayto

Private Morgan of the 1st Battalion, 11th London was billeted in Welwyn and stayed with Mrs George Whittle during the winter of 1914/15. His letter to her was published in the Hertfordshire Mercury in September 1915.

He starts by explaining why he had not written before: ‘The fact is living in the trenches, moving from one place to another, and all the 100 other distracting things I have gone through, tends to place such things as letter writing in the background.’

He describes himself as ‘resting from the trenches’, although he noted that it involved working harder than ever; but it did give him opportunity to write to say that he had often ‘thought of you all and dear old Welwyn’. He tells her that life in the trenches is not so bad (if the weather is good), apart from lack of sleep and water. On a positive note, he records that he has washed and shaved in a cup of water and felt as refreshed as if he had enjoyed a hot bath, and that there is plenty of food with hot stew once a day. He says, ‘One soon adapts oneself to the new order of things and manage to live a fairly happy life.’

However, ‘like all the other fellows out here in this “hellish business”‘, he was looking forward to returning home, ‘but in the meantime all we can do is to think of the many happy times we have had, several were, in my case, spent at Welwyn’.

He concludes: ‘There is much very interesting that I could tell you, but that must wait until another day, après la guerre n’est pas.’

The 1911 census reveals that George Whittle (age 56) and his wife, Alice (age 51), were at ‘The Steamer’, Welwyn Hill, with a daughter, Mabel (age 10). Although George was enumerated as a gardener, he was described as a ‘Beer Retailer’ in Kelly’s Trade Directory for 1910 and it was doubtless a joint operation with his wife. George Whittle held the licence until his death in 1932. ‘The Steamer’ is still there on London Road.

More information on Welwyn during WW1 can be found on the Welwyn LHS site:


This page was added on 28/11/2014.

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  • Ah yes a “wash and a shave in a cup of water” reminds me vividly of being on manoeuvres in the early 1960’s with the Territorial Army. Just about dawn, having slept in a hastily dug trench after a night-time exercise, came the task of washing camouflage paint from the face, a tooth clean, and then a wet shave – all in an inch or two of cold water in a mess tin.

    Great stuff.

    By Terry Askew (03/12/2014)