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From George to Emily, Xmas 1917

George in uniformawvFrom George to Emily, Xmas 1917 ‘Somewhere in France’

These words were written in a note by a twenty-year-old Milton lad, George Tibbitts, to his young sweetheart, Emily Wiggins, one hundred years ago. George was born on the 26 November 1896; he grew up with his parents William and Ellen Tibbitts (née Burson) and nine siblings in a cottage in Hawkes’s Yard. Like many young men of his generation he left a rural life to seek work in industrial South Wales, where he met his beloved Emily.

By Christmas 1917 George was a soldier in the British Army in the trenches of Northern France and Emily was at home in Maesteg, South Wales. This greeting is amongst a collection of notes sent by George to Emily between 1917 and 1918. They are written on beautifully embroidered silk cards, which have been treasured by several generations of his family. The sentiments expressed are a poignant record of their separation and the images and the colours within the cards are strikingly fresh today.

For the families of soldiers in the First World War, letters and postcards were the only method of communication with loved ones and George’s notes must have been eagerly awaited. Due to censorship ‘somewhere in France’ would be all that George could have said about his whereabouts. The embroidered cards were made by women in France as a source of income, and ‘finished’ in factories in Paris before being purchased by British soldiers as keepsakes and love tokens. Popularity of the cards became widespread as troops realised that ready-made messages passed through censors more rapidly and with less scrutiny than conventional letters.

Happily, George survived the war and returned home to Emily, and they were married in Sherborne Church, Gloucestershire in August 1920. George had been gassed in the trenches and he was not fit to resume his employment as a coal haulier. The couple moved to Aylesbury where George worked in a brewery before returning to his home village of Milton. In 1932 they moved into a new house in Peartree Close with their daughter Cicely (married name Miller) and son, Jeff. This was to become the family home for the next 83 years. Sadly, George died prematurely as a result of his war injuries in 1934, aged only 37.

After George’s death, Emily cared for their children alone with the kind support of Milton people. She became immersed in her adopted village, and was a keen fundraiser for the Church and member of local societies. Emily lived to the age of 84.
George’s notes are treasured by his granddaughters Andrea and Lorraine who kindly allowed them to be photographed for the Wychwood Local History Society (WLHS) archives.

Janet Wiltshire (WLHS)

December 2017 – January 2018