Margaret Wilson

Letters from the Front

With centenary commemorations of the First World War underway and continuing for the next five years, more and more stories are emerging; stories of love, stories of loss, and they all help us to remember the effect of the war on everyone at the front and at home.  The Museum was lucky to have recently been donated a collection of archives and images from the Wilson and MacKinnon families in Whanganui that tell yet another wartime story.

2014.61.2 a Arthur Wilson served as a Private in the 24th Reinforcements F Company of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  He was trained at Featherston Military Camp before relocating to Trentham and finally embarking for England on 16th April 1917.  Like many soldiers he wrote regular letters home, including to his sister Mag (Margaret) Wilson who lived at Alton Villa on St John’s Hill in Wanganui, and several of these letters are included in the collection.

2014.61.30Mag was a suit maker during the war, and Arthur made comment in his letters that she would be running out of clients based on the number of troops he witnessed coming into camp.  Once overseas, Arthur tells Mag about his continued weapons training and the conditions both in camp and at the front.  He comments on the ton of mud that stuck to his boots while serving in the trenches in France, and that his feet were never warm.  A highlight for him, despite the circumstances, was being in isolation with measles which took him away from the action during November 1917.

In March 1918 Arthur wrote about another break from the front: “We are away behind the line just now, & it is just alright to be there. Four of us are doing guard work in a small village just now. I can hear those guns roaring away, I simply hate the sound, & I don’t want to be any closer to them but I suppose we will soon be up near them again.”

2014.61.41Another common theme in Arthur’s letters is his love of his hometown Wanganui, and he often expresses the desire to return to the quiet town and live out his life in peace.  However, Arthur did not come home again; he was killed in action on 24th August 1918 at Bapaume, France, aged 35 years.  He is buried at the Grevillers British Cemetery at Pas-de-Calais.

2014.61.22Throughout the letters, Arthur refers to his friend who was also Mag’s sweetheart.  Duncan “Mack” MacKinnon was from Edinburgh, Scotland, but enlisted in the 10th Reinforcements New Zealand Engineers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  Mack embarked to Suez, Egypt, on 4th March 1916, but this collection includes only one of his letters, which he wrote to Mag on 28th May 1918.  He thanks her for the portrait she sent but writes that he is awaiting “the other one”, stating he wished he could be there to take it himself but it would require them having the house to themselves to do so rather than risking it by ‘their tree’ or round by the lake.  There is no mention if this photograph was created or received.

Mack survived the war.  He sent a telegram to Mag in February 1920 saying he had been demobilised and would return home, but he didn’t make it back to New Zealand until May.  They wasted no time and were married before the year had finished.

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My Dearest Mag…

As World War I centenary celebrations are carried out, we remember the people involved; those at the front and those at home, and sometimes the romantic links between them.

The Whanganui Regional Museum was recently donated a letter written by Duncan “Mack” MacKinnon, to his sweetheart Mag (Margaret) Wilson, of Whanganui.  Mack served in the Navy and wrote this letter while in port on 25th May 1918.  He writes that he loves her and wishes he could be with her, but also has an interesting photographic request and some keen observations on the local ladies.  The original letter had very little punctuation with only four full-stops over all three pages, so it has been added to the transcription.

Read on…

2014.61.8 address

H.M. “Flying Foam”

C/o G.P.O. London

28th May 1918

 My Dearest Mag,

Just a few lines in answer to your welcome letter, which I received just before we came away from our base. I mean the one with the little photo in it.  Is very like you dear, but my word why didn’t you smile instead of looking so serious? But I wouldn’t have minded it for anything Mag dear! You can depend I will look well after it but of course, greedy like I am, waiting until the other one comes. Of course I had to have another look in the envelope to see if you had sent my mascot but no such luck, unless it is on the road now. Now you be a little sport & send the lot if you have not already done so. Wish I was only there to take it myself. My word, I bet you would make a fuss! Of course we would have to wait until we had the house to ourselves as I think that would be rather a dangerous job under our old tree or round by the lake, what say you dearest? But I think I would risk it no matter where it was. I have your photo in front of me now & I fancy I can see you laugh as I write this.

2014.61.8 little sport

I am rather amused about what you tell me about Schniede, Mag dear.  But strange, Mag, I always thought to myself that he would never so any good, & the way he was carrying on things like that leak out & soon quite a lot of people get to know about it on the quick, & you know what like a place Wanganui is for gossip. I got to know quite a lot of things, & about people, with knowing Jim Barry. Of course, they make that their business.

2014.61.8 photograph

The picture at the top of this is the entrance to where our base is, although you can’t see the wharfs. We always lie off this pier you see in the picture. A little further out than those little sailing boats you see a little further round is a another pier, although you can’t see it, reserved for ladies if you please for bathing. I often watch them with the glasses when we are in, bobbing up & down & cutting all the capers imaginable. Some of them have got a nasty habit of keeping their behinds well out of the water, especially those built like Mrs McIntyre! Dinkum, if you were only close enough you could smack them with a stick. I don’t think any of them have got any mascots, at least I can’t see any with the glasses but it’s great sport watching them. Of course, if they only knew any one was spying on them there would be a general clear out. I wish you were only among the lot Mag dear, I would soon spot you & then chaff the life out of you afterwards about it.

Well dear, since we came round to this new base we have had hardly any time to ourselves, we have been kept that busy. But I wouldn’t mind that if I could see the end of it in sight & I was on my way back again. I know it will be a great relief.

My 2nd is going to bring his wife over here next month. He belongs to Bristol & has four of a family – three girls & a boy. The girls are all well up & quite able to look after the house while the mother is away.

Well, Mag dearest, news is about as scarce as hens’ teeth until I get your letters so will have to close with kind regards to all, & with lots of love & thousands of kisses from one who loves you dearly.

2014.61.8 kisses

I remain your loving sweetheart,

Duncan MacKinnon

P.S. Have you been pinching any more bike pumps?

Mack

 

His charm and charisma worked on Mag and the couple were married when Mack returned to New Zealand in 1920.