Write a ‘Letter from the Front’, any era, any front, in 300 words.
We were honoured to have Lt-Gen Sir Christopher Wallace KBE DL adjudicate the February competition. Sir Christopher has had a distinguished Military career and is Chairman of Winchester Military Museums. He is also the author of a number of books.
- A Brief History of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps 1755 – 1965.
- Focus on Courage: the 59 Victoria Crosses of the Royal Green Jackets.
- Rifles and Kubris: Delhi, 1857.
Sir Christopher said his assessment was based on four criteria;
- How well does the entry fit the criteria for the competition?
- How well has the entry been written and composed?
- How original is it?
- How real is it? Is it imaginable?
Sir Christopher Wallace’s Adjudication:
1st Prize: David Lea, A Letter from the Front
‘This letter is written by a nasty jihadist, typical of those we hear about fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere today. As an entry, it stood out from the rest as different, original, excellent in composition, topical and arresting – in my view, a very worthy winner.’
There are so many real letters from so many real fronts that to write one as a fiction is unlikely to be as affecting as the real thing and would only serve a purpose as part of a longer narrative. Most of the published letters from war zones (both real and fictional) are about acts of individual courage in the face of extreme violence and deprivation, and of fortitude in the face of physical and psychological hurt. Often nobility is found in fighting for a just cause or in personal sacrifice for the good of others.
However, we have all been exposed to accounts of wars, particularly in Africa, but also in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria and across the Middle East, where there appears to be little nobility of purpose and where the basest and most vile of human instincts are given free rein. However, there are few letters from any front that are written from the perspective of one of the perpetrators of the brutality that we see, read and hear about on an almost daily basis. Hence, my nasty little missive.
A Letter from the Front
Missing you already.
How is it for you, Aldo?
Are you sitting on the sofa watching The News?
Let’s hope you don’t see me.
Yesterday, a woman, a girl really – let’s call her a young woman –
She said I must be a very angry man to do what I do.
To do what I had just done.
And I said, ‘No, Missy,
I’m not angry, Missy.
I rape girls because I enjoy raping girls,
That is all.
Not because I am angry’
Me, I would get angry just sitting on a sofa.
So I did it again.
She wasn’t expecting that.
Neither was I – didn’t think I had the juice in me.
Maybe it was what she said.
Maybe I was angry then, just a little bit.
But it don’t matter, Aldo, it worked – I enjoyed it more the second time.
Like sweet chilli sauce on a leg of chicken. – very tasty.
Remember, Aldo? Remember the village?
She said I must be evil – to do what I did.
To do what I do.
I told her there is no evil unless there is good.
She asked me if I believed in God.
You and me, Aldo, we know the truth, don’t we?
Life is all there is.
And Death, of course.
And to be in charge of a death, Aldo, that is when I’m most alive.
To have him in my sights, Aldo.
To pull the trigger,
To watch him drop.
You must miss that, Aldo.
You can’t make a death happen from the sofa; can you Aldo?
Not a real death.
They don’t allow it. Not in a civilised society.
So I shot her.
She wasn’t expecting that.
2nd Prize: Celia Livesey (pseudonym John Black), A Letter just before D-Day
‘A close second – excellent composition written just as one knows letters were written then, including a reproach from husband to wife made up for later in the letter. The letter concludes with a nice touch at the end – the drawing of a bluebird with an accompanying explanation why.’
Mrs Kathleen Sims,
126 Avenue Road,
6th of June 1944
My Darling Kath and baby,
I’m counting the days until I’m home with you again and our dear little girl. I love you with all my heart and I pray to God each day to keep you safe. Charlie told me about the landmine. Why didn’t you say? His missus said it took out half the road. My darling, I want to know everything that happens. Please, please don’t let me hear about what you’re going through from neighbours.
I am well, and spirits are high. Everyone is saying the end isn’t far off – next year for sure. Charlie’s a good mate and makes me laugh, and there’s a bloke in our unit called ‘Bing’ who fancies himself as a bit of a crooner. If I ask him nice, he sings our song ‘Arm in Arm Together’. I wish I was back home with you, walking arm in arm, waking next to you and feeling your warm body in my arms, breathing the sweet smell of your hair.
I’ll take you to the ‘flicks’ when I get home. I know you want to see ‘Gone with the Wind’. We’ll sit in the 1/6s, the ‘P.O.S.H.’ seats, a special treat for my special girl. I’ve still got a bit of that cake left you sent me for my birthday. It’s the best present ever, but you must have been saving up your coupons for weeks. Thank you, darling.
How is my dearest little Sylvia? Is she walking yet? I wonder if she’ll remember her daddy when I get home.
Well, my darling, I’ll say goodbye for now. All my love and kisses to you and baby.
Your ever loving husband,
P.S. I’ve drawn the bluebird of happiness. It’s carrying my love to you over land, over sea, and across all the miles that separate us. Know that you are always in my heart.
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
3rd Prize: Veronika Moore, WWI Letter written from Cambrai, 15 March 1918
‘Well written and imaginable, but lacking the originality of the winner and the breadth of subject matter of the runner-up. I liked it because of the juxtaposition of the letter writer’s relationship with his mother and God, highlighting the truth of that well-worn aphorism that “there’s no such person as an atheist in a slit-trench”.’
15 March, 1918
My dearest mother,
As I sit here upon this damp patch of bare earth, I feel your presence by my side. I know you are here, but I cannot see you, nor can I recall your face. In a moment of panic, I hastily unbutton my jacket and fumble around the breast pockets for my most cherished souvenir: a faded family photograph. This weightless object is my religious shrine, and I come to it night after night to seek God’s comfort and peace in your smiling face.
Mother, you’ve been with me in my darkest hours – digging with me the heavy French clay of the trenches, fighting by my side on the battlefield at Langemarck last August, and as I lay there half-dead waiting for the quagmire to swallow me you held my head in your lap and sang to me. I thank you a million times over for your unconditional love and protection. I also thank this great war of ours for carving me into a better man, a better son, a better human being.
The end of the war is nigh. We all feel it in our weathered bones. May the Almighty grant us victory and may birdsong soon prevail where previously gunshots and the sound of bombardment filled the air.
With love and hope of an early reunion.
Your loving son Fred
Highly Commended: Lou Merlin, The First and Last Letter
‘This entry, written by a chariot commander in the period 1200 BC and the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Rameses the Second, is full of cleverness and originality. It just failed to make it into third position because I was a little uncertain about the language used; there were one or two words which I thought would not have figured in the Egyptian lexicon at that time.’
Highly Commended: Gill Hollands, Letter from the Front
‘Gill Hollands’ entry was about the impact upon the occupiers of a house on a cliff-top subjected to a torrential storm, that topples into the sea – hence the cliff-top being ‘at the front’ and, although I don’t think she intended it, the storm being a weather ‘front’. Clever and original in approach, my wife and I, however, are still not clear how a home at the top of a cliff can at the same time result in water coming up to the letter writer’s ankles. Clearly we lack Gill’s imagination!’
Highly Commended: David Eadsforth (John Woodman) Letter from the Front somewhere in France, 20 February 1916’
‘John Woodman’s entry was well written, but suffered from one flaw. It was a letter written by a private soldier rather more in the language that I would have expected an officer to use.’
The prizes were signed copies of Anthony Riches’ books, and a Certificate of Adjudication from Sir Christopher Wallace.
The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered the competition, and said that Sir Christopher had said that he was very glad to have had the opportunity to judge this competition, and it was a privilege and a pleasure to be concerned with such a high standard of entry.