1. ITV Report

With love from the frontline

Private James Ivan "Jimmy" Menzies Photo:

A poignant love letter from a French woman to a British soldier during the First World War has been unearthed by experts.

The letter, sent on Valentine's Day in 1916, was sent as preparations were under way for the Battle of the Somme, nearly 100 years ago.

In a mixture of English and French, Eleornore Anneelle, a cafe owner's daughter from the Somme village of Berteaucourt-les-Dames, declared her love for Private James Ivan "Jimmy" Menzies, a member of the King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), who had either been billeted at the cafe or was a regular visitor there.

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The letter was bequeathed to the University of Leeds' Liddle Collection of private papers of those who lived through the First World War, by Mr Menzies' daughter.

In it, Ms Aneelle declared: "I think of you always, and send you my very best wishes," adding: "When shall I see you again?"

It is not known if the romance between the pair blossomed.

Jimmy Menzies, who had signed up at the age of 18 not long after war broke out, was badly wounded in the Battle of the Somme in August 1916.

He performed in concert parties during the remainder of the war and was discharged before the armistice was signed, the university said, then went on to become a singer and actor, famous for his comic baritone roles with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in the 1920s.

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In 1923 he married fellow D'Oyly Carte singer Elsie Griffin, who had entertained British troops in France during the war, popularising songs such as Danny Boy and Roses of Picardy in the trenches.

The letter was unearthed as part of the University of Leeds' Legacies of War centenary research and public engagement project.

Alison Fell, professor of French Cultural History, who is heading the project, said: "In the months leading up to the Somme offensive in 1916, Allied soldiers were regularly billeted in the village, and as a result many inhabitants set up 'estaminets' selling alcohol and food to the troops.

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Military authorities were concerned about relationships between troops and local French girls - prostitution was common, of course - but good friendships and relationships between soldiers and civilian French women were also struck up, usually in a stilted mixture of French and English.

Menzies, as a private, would have been unlikely to have spoken that much French and the French girls, equally, had very little English.

He seems to have known her parents as well as her, so this seems to me to have been a chaste - and probably fleeting - romance.

Menzies and Griffin's daughter, Mahala Menzies, 85, from Blackheath, south east London, who donated her father's papers to the University of Leeds archives, said he had not talked much to her about the war and had never mentioned his "petite amie" from Berteaucourt-les-Dames.

"I'm sure there was never anything beyond some kind words as far as their relationship went," she said.

The Liddle Collection includes the personal papers of more than 4,000 people who lived through the First World War.

Here is the full letter, translated:

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Dear friend

I'm answering your letter that I received this morning, it gave me great pleasure to hear that you're well; I am also well, as are all the family. I think of you always, and send you my very best wishes. If you are in Candas as you said I hope you will come and see us, as it's not very far from us. Next time you can send me more details. My parents send their best wishes and say hello.

With best wishes from a girlfriend who thinks of you always.

My love you [sic]

When shall I se [sic] you again

Kisse xxxxxxxxxxx

Hoping to get some good news from you soon.

Eleonore Aneelle, Cafe de la Poste, Berteaucourt-les-dames, Somme.

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