Losing a Loved One in WW1

Case studies: waiting for news of a missing soldier

While soldiers endured the horrors of the trenches, their relatives battled their fears on the Home Front, waiting anxiously for news of their soldier and dreading the arrival of a telegram delivering bad news.

Case study: Fred Andrews - ‘Missing’ on the Somme

On 30 June 1916, 21-year-old soldier Private Fred Andrews sat down to write a letter to his mother back home in Birmingham. It was the eve of the Battle of the Somme and Fred would have known while writing, that this letter home could be his last.

The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. On the first day, 1 July 1916, over 19,000 British soldiers are believed to have been killed. Among them was Fred, who had been serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. However, as his body was not found straight away, at first his mother was told only that he was missing. For weeks she kept writing letters to him, which the army postal service returned, unopened, with the word ‘missing’ inscribed on the envelopes.

Desperate to find him, his mother produced postcards (pictured, top) with his photograph on, even printing some in German and sending copies to German Army prisoner of war camps, in case he might have been taken prisoner. The phrase Nicht ermittelt on the card roughly translates as ‘not verified’ by German officials.

When Fred’s body was located, he was later buried in Serre Road Cemetery, near the Somme in northern France. His family received a photograph of his grave (see above), which they treasured, along with his wartime letters.

Case study: Private Edward Cutt and Ellen Dabbs

Ellen Dabbs’ fiancé Private Edward Cutt, known as ‘Teddy’ (pictured above), was serving with the East Surrey Regiment. Just days after he arrived in France, on 26 September 1915 Teddy was reported missing in action. Previously, Teddy and Ellen had written to each other every day and Ellen scoured his letters for clues to work out what might have happened to him (her notes are pictured above). She waited for a year before the official notice of Teddy’s death arrived.

Like thousands of women who had lost their boyfriend or fiancé in the war, Ellen never married. She lovingly preserved Teddy’s letters with a photograph and lock of his hair, and today they are in the Surrey History Centre. Ellen’s small bundle of papers is a single personal story, but it also represents the human cost of the Great War.


Anxious - worried
Front line – (in war) the closest position of an army to its enemy
Inscribed - written
Preserved - kept with care
Verified - checked, made sure of

View other relevant My Learning WW1 resources or scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.

See the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery |  Surrey Heritage | 
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