Passion of WWI troops revealed in letters to valentines

The stirring emotions of First World War soldiers who died 100 years ago in the Battle of Passchendaele have been revealed in love letters to their wives and sweethearts.

Lace-embroidered postcards declaring undying devotion are among the notes made public on Valentine's Day in the centenary year of the bloody conflict near the Belgian city of Ypres.

"Know that my last thoughts were of you in the dugout or on the fire step my thought went out to you, the only one I ever loved, the one that made a man of me."

Lace-embroidered postcards were sent home from the First World War trenches throughout the conflict. Credit: Family Handout

So wrote Private Albert Ford to Edith, who he described as the "best of wives", before he went over the top on October 26, 1917 in what proved the final fortnight of the three-and-a-half month battle.

His was among hundreds of thousands of prepared letters sent home from the 310,000 allied soldiers who became victims of Passchendale's killing fields after a deluge of summer rain turned the area into hellish muddy swamps.

Edith Ford never remarried despite her fallen husband's final letter urging her to do so. Credit: Family Handout

Private Ford's letter was released by his great-grandaughter Louise Argent.

She was among the descendants of fallen soldiers to make their poignant and treasured keepsakes public.

The Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele, claimed the combined lives of more than 500,000 soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Credit: PA

The evocative documents were released ahead of centenary commemorations of the battle between July 31 and November 10.

They include several letters home from Private Charles Snelling to his wife Alice and daughters, along with a photograph of Alice he carried into battle.

A photograph of Alice Snelling taken by her soldier husband into battle was found in woods near the conflict. Credit: Family Handout

The image was returned to her after being discovered by chance in Belgian woodland months after he was killed in action, though it was another month before Alice learned her missing husband was dead.

She had already received a lace-embroidered postcard and a letter before the Passchendaele campaign in which he said he was "merry and bright".

In his correspondence, kept by his grandson Bob Snelling, he added: "When this little picnic is finished we will have the old times over again making up for these months of parting."

The Soldiers' Christian Association sent the photograph of Alice Snelling to her with a letter though her husband's whereabouts remained unknown. Credit: Family Handout

Another passage urged her to be carry on as if he was at home and not to think of tomorrow.

In his final postcard home, dated August 14, he reported: "I am quite well. Letter follows at first opportunity". Private Snelling died the following day.

While many soldiers wrote of their devotion, others were keen to save face after being jilted back home before heading to war.

Edward 'Ted' Woolley wrote to his sister asking her to lie to a former beau in a letter kept by his niece Ann Phillip.

Edward 'Ted' Woolley asked his sister to lie to a girl who jilted him before the war. Credit: Family Handout

"I am glad you told me that you met Bessie, and I think she is sorry now she throwed me up, but I am glad," he wrote.

"If you see her again tell her I have got another girl whether I have got one or not."

While his brothers survived the war, Ted died on August 22 1917.

His name appears on the memorial to the missing in Tyne Cot cemetery alongside 35,000 others who - like him - have no known grave.

First World War Minister Rob Wilson said he hoped the release of the letters and the accompanying stories would "encourage more people to explore their past and apply to join in this summer's commemorations of this infamous battle".