Love letters from the front inspires 137-part radio series

Letters between British soldier and Irish lover show full horrors of the war

Phyllis Kelly and Eric Appleby: The English soldier and Athlone woman  met at a dance in March 1915

Phyllis Kelly and Eric Appleby: The English soldier and Athlone woman met at a dance in March 1915

 

Love letters between a British soldier and his Irish sweetheart have been turned into a radio drama which will run for the next five months. *

The letters were between an English soldier Eric Appleby from Liverpool who was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery.

He was sent for training to Athlone and it was here that he met local girl Phyllis Kelly at a dance in March 1915. Eric was later moved to the Western Front but they kept in touch in a series of extraordinary letters.

Before he was posted to the front they wrote about “love days” but they were only together four times after he completed his training. He was posted to the Western Front and was eventually killed at the Battle of the Somme in October 1916.

“Oh, Lady isn’t it just dreadful to think that a whole year has gone and that we had only twelve days in it together,” he wrote to her. “May God grant that it shall not be this again this year. I want every day in every year to be ours. OH! When will this wretched war be finished?”

Mr Dougan said he had fallen for her “hook, line and sinker” but his ardour was initially not reciprocated though she eventually relented.

His letters shows the full horror of the front. “We are really in it now. Quite close to our guns, there is a shell hole 40 foot deep. It is appalling to look at.”

The letters grow steadily darker as the horrors of the front are visited on Appleby. He becomes more unhinged and desensitised at the front. He cuts off the lapels of a German soldier and send them to her.

Mr Dougan said the letters show how the war affected both those at the front and those left behind.

Phyllis Kelly lived until 1991 and there are contributions in the documentary from her nephews Tom and Patrick Kelly.

Her last unsent letter to Appleby states: “Dear one, surely God won’t take you from me now. It will be the end of everything that matter because, oh Englishman, you are the world and life to me. But I must be brave like you, dear, but the words of your Dad’s telegram will keep ringing in my ears and squashing out hope.”

Love Letters From The Front began on Sunday at 12.30pm on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle and carries on for 137 consecutive days.

The letters will be read out in self-contained short episodes which will be broadcast from Thursday April 21st at 11.55am and again at 11.50pm up until the end of October of this year. Each episode lasts five minutes.

* This story was amended on April 17th 2016