Rare find from frontline goes on display at Sheringham museum
- Credit: SHERINGHAM MUSEUM
A 100-year-old thank you letter written by a soldier serving on the frontline during World War One has gone on display in north Norfolk as part of an exhibition commemorating the home-front knitting drive.
Private Ernest George Gale, who served with the Royal Engineers in Italy, wrote the thank you note to nine-year-old Phyllis Dennis, of Beeston Regis, in reply for receiving a pair of mitten gloves.
The rare find, which was only discovered by family upon her death in 1982, has been donated to the Mo Museum in Sheringham and is on display until the end of September.
Museum manager Philip Miles said: 'This letter is important to the exhibition as it shows that the wartime knitting drive also came to North Norfolk. It is lovely to think that this nine-year-old girl played her part in the war effort and obviously treasured this thank you letter.
'We are delighted to be able to display it and are very grateful to the family for donating it to us.'
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Taken by surprise in a war that was only meant to last a few months and be over by Christmas, the government encouraged the local population to 'Knit for Tommy' to plug the shortfall in uniform over the colder months. Hats, socks, special rfle mittens, with a trigger finger, balaclavas and cardigans were all knitted.
It wasn't just clothing knitted either – the museum has on display two rare 100 year old hand knitted bandages on loan from Southampton University Archives, used during the battle of the Somme, where medical supplies couldn't keep up with the horrific casualty numbers.
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They were knitted in cotton so that they could be boiled and re-used on other injured soldiers.
Dated February 1918, the letter opens with the line 'My Dear Little Friend' and goes on to say: 'Just a line to thank you for the new mittens you sent to me. I am very thankful to you as the nights are very cold here and they will keep my hands nice and warm.
'Would you care to know anything about Italy? It is far different from England. Practically the only thing that is grown here is grapes.'
Private Gale goes on to describe the agricultural practices of the local area, including using Oxon rather than horses to plough, the lack of coal and the use of wood to stay warm.
The letter concludes: 'I have not seen a shop for months and we seem to be away from civilisation altogether. I have a little girl of my own at home in Dorset and I know she will be pleased when I tell her what you have sent me. I will now close hoping that this letter will find you quite well as it does me at present. Yours Gratefully, E. G. Gale.'
Using the details in the letter, museum volunteer Jane Crossen researched the fate of Private Gale and discovered he survived the war.
Born in 1883, he died in 1959. He married Ethel Ella Saunders in 1908. They had one child: Lorna Kathleen Ella Gale, mentioned in the letter, who was born in 1911 and she died in 2000 in Taunton.
Before the war Private Gale was a carpenter and a gamekeeper and, according to the 1939 census, he was a dairy farmer.