Selected by Lianne Smith, Archives Services Manager

This letter was written from Arthur Bryant to his mother on 18 February 1918 – his 19th birthday. At the time Bryant was training with the Royal Flying Corps. Four months later he headed to France to join the front line as a pilot.

The letter has a rather curious, juvenile quality. He starts the letter ‘Dear Mummy’ and signs it ‘Lots of love, Boy’. He thanks his mother for his birthday gifts, asks for a hot bath to be ready when he gets home (he had been awarded two days leave) and asks her to book him theatre tickets. He even illustrates his letter with a drawing of a train!

Having read bits and pieces from Arthur Bryant’s archive spanning most of his adult life, I have to be honest and confess that I am not much of a fan of his. His writing sometimes displays a pomposity which can make it difficult to warm to him, and his world view differs considerably from mine. However, there is something about the childlike tone of this letter that I find very touching. It highlights that this very young man, preparing to undertake the hugely dangerous job of piloting early aircraft, was really just a boy. Bryant was one of the lucky ones who returned home after the war to live a long and full life, but this letter reminds me of all those boys and young men who sadly didn’t make it home.

Ref: Bryant B11

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