Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Christmas 1918

It was December 1918. The war was over, peace had been declared in November, but cousins, Roy Phelan and Alex Gordon, were still in England and they managed to meet up in London. It took a long time to get all of our boys home to Australia. Alex didn't get home until July 1919 and Roy in June 1919.

If you look closely at the photo below (click on it to view enlarged) you'll see that Roy appears to have a band under his hat. Indeed he did. He received serious head injuries from shrapnel on the battlefield in France and spent months recovering in England.

Roy Phelan (left) and his cousin Alex Gordon, London, December 1918
We have the letters that Roy wrote to his girlfriend (later his wife), Annie Sims, in Mitiamo, Victoria. These are two letters he wrote in December 1918. He wrote about spending Christmas with his friends, the Plumtree family, at Plumstead near London. I think their son was, or had been, the Church of England minister at Mitiamo. At the time Roy was still at the Military Hospital at Bronesbury Park north London, but must have been well enough to come and go a bit.

Letter 1
Brondesbury Park, Military Hospital, Kilburn, 23‑12‑18
My Dearest Annie, Again this week I received letters from my Love.  What a shock it must have been for my Darling when they told you I was wounded. It wouldn't have been so bad if you could have only found out how I really was. Well in any case I am as good as gold now and trust shall not be a great while now before I can say good‑bye to hospital for good. I still wear my night cap and think it is just as well for my hair has hardly grown at all yet. Only two more days till Xmas. How different it will be in every respect this year.Truly this year we can hear the Angels sing Peace on earth goodwill towards men, and yet will there will be many sad homes for there will be the vacant chair. Annie God’s ways are wonderful and perhaps dark to us, yet what a comfort for us to know there is Light if we could only see it. When I tell you of all my trips Sweetheart you will be thinking there is not too much wrong with me.  Monday I was in to Australia House and cabled home for money. I haven't been able to draw any pay since I have been in hospital. They said at the bank they would have it here within a week so that is pretty good going. Two or three days I have been out for walks and also back to Camberwell to see the other boys. Friday I met Miss Grace P. and she took me through Selfridges which is supposed to be one of the biggest shops in the world. Yesterday I was out to Plumstead again and if I can get away Xmas Day I am going out for dinner. Percy brought me home in the evening and then I went to Church. What do you think of me Dear.  Doesn’t sound as if I am very bad does it.... I hope Annie you have a very Happy Xmas and you may be sure I shall be thinking of my little Girlie so far away. Goodbye Dearest, With fondest love      
          From your ever loving boy, Roy

Letter 2
Brondesbury Park, Military Hos., 29/12/18 
My Dearest Annie, Another Xmas has come and gone and I could not help wondering how my Love would spend hers. Of course you would not be able to go anywhere for it is your busy time. I had 48 hours leave and of course went out to Plumtree’s arriving there about 11 o'clock Christmas morning. The usual good things for dinner Annie and you may be sure I did full justice to them. Except for going for a walk we stayed in both on Boxing Day & Friday so that, I had a quiet, but very enjoyable time considering I am so far away from my Sweetheart. Christmas morning I got up in good time and went to 7 o’clock Communion. I was surprised at the number of people who were there for at that time it was just about dark and jolly cold. Last Tuesday I met Percy & we were going to the museum but instead went shopping and are going to the museum on Saturday. When I came back Friday night there was a concert across the road, so over I went. It was extra good and was I glad I went. The next night our house gave an evening to the other house.  There was a set tea, and on the tables were all sorts of good things such as jelly, fruit salads etc. The concert lasted about an hour then games were played for awhile and they finished up with a dance. We were all given 3 packets of cigarettes, a couple of studs and a tie pin. By this I expected to see snow but although it has been cold, none has fallen yet. A couple of mornings ago I was out for a walk and noticed any water lying about was frozen and Love I suppose you are doing your best to keep cool. What price the ice‑cream this year?  Have come to a close once again. So darling trusting you are keeping well I am   Ever your loving boy, Roy  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Happy Christmas to all Sepia Saturday bloggers (and our readers).  


  1. There's something special about letters home, isn't there? Roy sounds like a sweetheart; how ironic he's fighting in a war and thinking about peace on earth! Merry Christmas, Lorraine!

  2. How incredible to have such family history!!
    Merry Christmas!

  3. I love reading letters fellows wrote to their sweethearts back in the day. To see all the "Love"s & "darling"s & "sweetheart"s & etc. they use warms my romantic heart! I've seen a few of the letters my father wrote to my mother & they are very similar. And they used other certain phrases as well, such as "did justice to" referring to meals. My great grandfather's journal of his trip to Yosemite in 1874 contains such a phrase at least twice. How wonderful you have the letters & picture. Best wishes for a lovely Christmas & a fine New Year.

  4. Letters Across Time & Space.So Good Youve preserved them.
    Hey Wishing You A Great Christmas & All The Best For 2014.Best Wishes T.

  5. The best kind of Christmas greetings. Thanks for sharing them.

  6. All that and he managed to go to Selfridges!!!

  7. Lovely letters thar Roy wrote home to his sweetheart, and great that she kept them, so you could share them with us - I wonder what he would have thought about that? Merry Christmas Lorraine!

  8. Poignant letters home after he had had a traumatic experience of war.
    Have a Merry Christmas, Lorraine.

  9. People don't write letters like that anymore - sad isn't it?
    Roy looks quite thin and like his suit is way too big - obviously been quite ill, I'm glad he survived to return home.
    Merry Christmas to you

  10. Just beautiful. Very moving.

  11. The simplest of Christmas gifts and they still keep on giving. Thank you for sharing this special treasure.
    Best wishes for a joyful holiday and bright new year.

  12. What a wonderful post for Christmas. I'm sure Annie was greatly relieved to read Roy's reassuring words of how well he was getting along. Happy New Year!

  13. Any girl would love to get a letter like that from her 'loving boy' at Christmas.

  14. Very interesting. Roy wrote lovely letters.


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