Soldier's letter home to Suffolk finally delivered 80 years after he died near Dunkirk

Eighty years ago this week, as the British Army prepared for the evacuation at Dunkirk, a group of young soldiers from the 1st Suffolk Regiment wrote letters to their loved ones. None of the letters would make it home.

One soldier, Harry Cole, wrote a loving letter to his mother at their family home in Hasketon near Woodbridge.

Now, 80 years on, that letter has finally been delivered.

  • ITV News Anglia's Tanya Mercer takes up the story in this report

Private Harry Cole was serving in France during the Second World War as British troops retreated just before the Dunkirk evacuation at the end of May 1940.

Three days before his death, Harry wrote a letter to his family. This week that letter eventually made its way home to his brother Clemmie Cole

The letter - along with dozens of others written by soldiers from the 1st Suffolk Regiment - went astray and were discovered by a German Officer.

He took them home and they remained in his attic until 1968 when he took them to The British Embassy in Bonn in the then West Germany.

Harry Cole's brother Clemmie says he is sad his mother never read her son's final letter.

The letters were stored at the Suffolk Archives.

Heidi Hughes works there and also lives in Hasketon where she made the connection of the family name, the letter and Harry's name on the village war memorial.

From there she was able to track down Harry's brothers to deliver what would turn out to be his final letter home.

A chance sighting of a name on a village war memorial led to a wartime letter being finally delivered after 80 years.

There are 41 undelivered letters in the archives. All of them written by young men full of fear, hope and love.

Some of the soldiers would make it to Dunkirk to be evacuated but many, sadly, would not.

Private Jack Payne wrote to his wife Dorothy at her home near Bury St Edmunds. They'd been married for just a few months.

Jack was killed in action during the evacuation from Dunkirk.

"It will be lovely to be home with you again, but time will soon roll round dear when all this trouble will be ended.

PRIVATE JACK PAYNE'S FINAL LETTER HOME BEFORE HE DIED AT DUNKIRK
The Suffolk Archive office still has 41 undelivered wartime letters waiting to be discovered.

In other letters in the collection, Private Leman Martin wrote to Miss Pamela Howels in Elmswell: "I should like to know if you would go out with me Pam."

He never got to take Pam out - he too was killed in action at Dunkirk, aged just 23.

Fred Minns wrote to his girlfriend Eva in Bures St Mary - full of longing for home.

He wrote: "On one side are the sounds of war, on the other are the peaceful sounds which remind me so much of England and you darling and all that might have been."

Fred never saw the end of the war. He died in 1940.

The wartime letter that has finally been delivered 80 years late.

Harry Cole's brother Clemmie says he is sad his mother never read her son's final letter, but he hopes through this story other families may be reunited with their own soldiers' long-lost letters.

  • You can find our more information about the letters never delivered on the Suffolk Archives website

This is full list of the letters’ authors and intended recipients.

If you would like to view the documents or order copies, you can contact us at archives@suffolk.gov.uk

  • Private J. E. Taylor, 5830519 to Mr and Mrs Taylor, London

  • Cadwell to Mrs Cadwell, Malta

  • Bill to Mrs Gladys Cockrill, Hove, Sussex

  • Lance Corporal P. Steele, 5827174 to Mrs A F Salmon, Enfield, Middlesex

  • S. G. Mason to Mrs G E Mason, Chiswick, London

  • Corporal F. E. Thompson,5823543 to Mrs J Thompson, Camberley, Surrey

  • A B Page to Mrs A C [Phyllis] Page, Plymouth, Devon

  • Jack Tolley to Mrs J Tolley, Penkridge, Staffordshire

  • Arthur Mottram to Mrs R A Mottram, Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire

  • Private H. P. Ling, 5824817 to Mrs E J Ling, Haverhill

  • Private S. Harvey, 5827400 to Mr and Mrs Harvey, Catford, London

  • Arthur Mottram to Mrs A J Mottram, Chelmsford, Essex

  • PSM G. Whapman, 5821066 to Mrs G [Ethel] Whapman, Plymouth,Devon

  • Private S. Rose, 5824500 to Mrs S Rose, Colchester, Essex

  • D. McIntosh to Mrs R S McIntosh, Edinburgh

  • Private A. Playford, 5827390 to Miss Joyce Anderson, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

  • Peter De[ram] to Mlle Jacqueline Hounant, Alencon, France

  • Stuart Robertson to Mrs S [Elizabeth] Robertson, Gomshall, Surrey

More letters are being held by Suffolk Archives waiting to be found by their intended recipients.
  • Private George Johnson,5825248 to Mrs I Johnson, Coalville, Leicestershire

  • Jack Payne to Mrs J L Payne, Ampton

  • Private L Martin, 5826449 Miss Pamela Howels, Elmswell

  • Private Harold L Knights, 5825043 to Mrs G [Rosie] Crouch, Barkway, Hertfordshire

  • Private Harold L Knights, 5825043 to Mrs B Ford, Witheridge, Devon

  • Private E Cadman, 5823394 to Mrs Cadman, Donyatt, Somerset

  • Fred Minns to Miss E Willingham, Bures St Mary

  • G. A. Clarke, 5825172 to Mrs H G Clarke, Glasgow

  • Joe Kempster to Mrs J Kempster, Harefield, Middlesex

  • Lance Corporal H. W. Cable, 5826105 to Miss Eileen Allen, Easton, Bristol

  • Private E. Garnham, 5824647 to Mrs E [Mabel] Garnham, Cavisham, Berkshire

  • W. Paul to Mrs Paul, Harrow, Middlesex

  • Private C. H. Drew, 5830350 to Mrs M C Drew, Highgate, London

  • D. McIntosh to Miss May MacDonald, Inverness,Scotland

  • Bert to Miss Ethel Read, Willesden, London

  • Private K. Barber, 5827319 to Mr C Barber, Beccles

  • Private R. Dearsley, 5827364 to Mrs J Rutter, Higham, Gazeley

  • Harry Cole, 5825359 to Mrs Cole, Hasketon

  • Private Brinded, 5827251 to Mrs Goodwin, Wattisfield

  • Corporal F. E. Thompson,5823543 to Mrs E Thompson, Witchford, Cambridgeshire

  • T. Jenkins to Mr and Mrs T Jenkins, New MaldenSurrey

  • J. R. Franklin to Mrs J R Franklin, Ashingdon, Essex

  • G. H. Edwards to Mrs H Edwards, Hitcham

More wartime letters are being held by Suffolk Archives waiting to be found by their intended recipients.