Love letters shed light on wartime romance

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The romantic wartime story of an army signalman and his sweetheart is being retold through their love letters sent across Europe in a new book.

Hundreds of passionate letters between Chris and Bessie were exchanged during the Second World War, and have now been put together in a new book - thanks to their son, Bernard Barker.

The book, titled My Dear Bessie features dozens of the handwritten notes from Chris to Bessie.

Bernard (68), the former head teacher at Stanground School in Peterborough, said: “They had both worked with each other at the London Post Office in the 1930s, before he was called up to the army as a Morse code operator.

“They only knew each other a bit, and when he first wrote to her he asked how she and her boyfriend Nick were.

“She replied saying she was no longer seeing Nick, and the rest is history.

“The letters are an incredible record of what life was like for an ordinary man during the Second World War.”

During his service between 1943 and 1946, Chris wrote more than 500 letters to Bessie, sometimes writing more than one letter every day - but sadly most of the replies from Bessie were lost.

Bernard said: “We know she wrote as often as he did, because of the contents of the letters.

“But he had to burn most of them as when he was moving about with the army, he could only take with him the bare essentials.

“We only have about 16 letters from her, compared to the 500 or so from him.”

The letters speak of how Chris was being posted from Africa to Greece during the war, the people he met and the places he went to as well as how much he was missing his sweetheart.

Chris and Bessie married in 1946, and remained together until Bessie died aged 90 in 2003, while Chris died aged 93 in 2007.

The book was compiled by Simon Garfield after Bernard had lovingly read and archived all of the letters.

Bernard, of Earlswood, Orton Brimbles, Peterborough, said: “I knew dad had written letters, and I had seen a few from when he typed some up about his time in Greece.

“But nothing prepared me for what was there.

“I thought I was the writer in the family, but there were hundreds of handwritten letters in the box - and not one spelling or grammar error in any of them.

“The letters were all in a box, not in any order, so it was a long process to get them all put in the right order.

“When I had finished sorting them, I took them to the special archive at the University of Sussex, and that is where Simon saw them.

“He has done a wonderful job putting them together.”

My Dear Bessie, published by Cannongate Books and edited by Simon Garfield, costs £6.29.