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Illingworth House: 17 - A Cherished Letter

Abe Illingworth, embroiled in the horrors of front-line warfare, sends a letter to his beloved Mary.

To read earlier chapters of John Waddington-Feather's story of a Yorkshire mill-owning family please click on Illingworth House in the menu on this page.

At long last the letter arrived she was waiting for, and trembling so much she could hardly open the envelope, Mary Calow read:

"My darling Mary,
You must be wondering what has happened after all this time not hearing from me. The truth is I haven't had time to do anything but keep alive. This rotten show looks like going on for some time whatever the politicos say. It certainly won't be over by Christmas as they led us to believe. It's a hell that's going to last for some time!

The Hun were much stronger than we thought, but we gave as good as we got. It's cost us many casualties and we're pulling back to new lines of defence in France.

My darling, I can't begin to describe the conditions here. Your love alone has kept me going. We've lost half the company including five from my platoon. Poor fellows. If I get out of this mess alive I'll visit their families - and that's something I'm not looking forward to. I've written to them.

Would you visit the families of Carter and Holmes who worked at our mill in Keighworth? It's the least we can do. They died like heroes. Their families can be very proud of them.

I received your letter and one from my father and was pleased to hear all was going well at work. I miss you terribly, my darling, and little John. Give him a hug from me. My father says Jonty spends more time with you than with his mother and that I can understand. Poor Rachel was never cut out for motherhood - or being a wife. We were both pushed into a marriage that couldn't last and I thank God daily I have you, my darling.

Johnson is proving a sterling fellow, as ever. He holds the men together wonderfully and is in line for a decoration. They all deserve a medal, but Johnson has been outstanding. Tell my father that. I'll be writing to him later when I can grab a moment.

I love you so much, my darling. Pray for me as I do you.

All my love, Abe."

The letter and envelope were soiled, but Mary Calow pressed them to her lips. It was early October and the first news she'd had from him since he left for the front. She was growing frantic.

What news had trickled back about the war hadn't been good. They'd heard Kitchener's little army was holding out, but only just. And the press had beefed up the atrocities the Germans were committing in Belgium. But they'd said nothing about British casualties and about how the Germans had driven back the French almost to Paris.

Then those dreadful telegrams began pouring in for the relatives of the dead. Within weeks of the outbreak of war, a whole batch arrived in Keighworth and the town knew then what war was all about.

So to know her lover was still alive and well lifted a great burden from Mary Calow. And to know he still loved her gladdened her heart still more.

When she went to work the next day she told his father. He'd long accepted his son was her lover, but as long as it was kept under wraps, as love affairs had always been in his generation, that was all right. Discretion in his day and age went hand in glove with promiscuity and hypocrisy.

In any case he liked his daughter-in-law, Rachel, less and less. Her marriage had been a business arrangement between her father and Sir Luke, and she made it quite clear as time went by how much she resented it and the less she had to do with him, the better. In the end, she had her own apartments out of town where she lived with one of her girl friends.


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