|Wives and mothers of men who were killed in action wrote to Mary Pennyman from cross Britain and Ireland. Their letters, which are now held in Teesside Archives, provide a window into the thoughts and feelings of women who would otherwise remain unnoticed by history. Through their writing we encounter them at a moment of profound sadness. Most try to manage their grief through recourse to religious beliefs and a sense of patriotic duty but occasionally fear, sorrow and anger are apparent in their correspondence. The letters tell stories of financial hardship, poor health and uncertain futures.
Bessie Walker, from York, had been married only six weeks when the platoon lieutenant wrote to say that her husband had been killed shortly before the end of the First World War. She wrote, ‘I try to be a comfort to his poor old Dad & Mother, they feel it dreadful. Perhaps its wicked to say so, but I sometimes wish I could be old with them, as life feels rather empty at times.’ By researching the lives behind the Pennyman letters this project aims to discover what happened to Bessie Walker and women like her in the years that followed.