Dr Rachel Franks
Dr Rachel Franks is a Coordinator, Education & Scholarship at the State Library of NSW and a Conjoint Fellow at The University of Newcastle. Her PhD explored class, gender and ethics in Australian crime fiction. Her research – across many areas of popular culture including crime fiction, food studies and information science – has been presented at numerous conferences and can be found in a wide variety of books, journals and magazines as well as on social media.
An unknown soldier, stationed in France, wrote at least two letters home to his aunt. The two letters in the Library's collection are dated December 1917 and September 1918.
The letters are signed "Doddin" though his full name, and the name of his aunt, are not known.
In the following two letters I have worked to respond directly to Doddin's words and letters that, I believe, are particularly Australian. There is talk of cricket, a request for Eucalyptus oil and a story of a monkey purchased in Egypt. The War is constant and the letters, though short, convey grief, loss and a desire to come home.
My responses to Doddin – writing as his aunt – are, of course, works of fiction. They were written with respect, and with some sadness, as a way to say “thank you” to one of so many soldiers who served.
(Dr) Rachel Franks.
My dearest nephew,
How wonderful to have received your letter (and for the pamphlet). And to read such news! That you are recovered! I was worried, terribly, of course. I must admit though that I laughed when I learnt of how you were injured – it is still awful but I think constantly of all the dreadful things that you must see each day. It could have been so much worse.
I am glad you could vote in the referendum and I am glad, too, that you voted the way you did. So many believe that conscription will bring you all home sooner but I only think that more men will mean the war will drag on even longer. How long, now, since you left home? I don’t know what the answer is; all I know is that God must be disappointed in all of us that we have come to this.
But enough of that. Things here are well. Tibby is pleased about the warmer weather, spending most of her time out in the garden – she didn’t like being cooped up in the house. Though if I put the fire on she was suddenly very friendly again. I have read your letter to her; the bits about the cricket twice xx.
Yes, of course I shall send you some more Eucalyptus; and some other supplies too if I can manage it. I much prefer to send you a small parcel – even though it is more expensive – as I feel a bit more confident that it will actually reach you. I do wonder how an envelope so small can find you, all the way on the other side of the world: so much further than I can ever imagine travelling.
I shall think of you – as I always do – on New Year’s Eve.
With much love always,
PS I am sure you will end up just a little bit “French” x
My dearest Doddin,
It was with some relief that I received your latest letter. I’m sorry it’s taken me a few days to reply but I wanted to go the library and look up, on a map, all the places you had been. I ended up causing quite a scene as maps were brought out and a small group gathered to follow your route. Mrs Taylor said her mum had been to Bristol once; so she was especially pleased to hear that you had been there. Though not the Australian leave you are hoping for it must have been good to be somewhere else – even if only for a short time.
The photo is lovely and I’ve put it in a small frame – it sits on the hall stand. I’m sure Daphne will be so grateful to receive it and to hear news from you. “Jacko” looks as if he could be very naughty. I can’t believe you were allowed to buy him in the first place and then take him with you! I’m not surprised he’s taken to you though xx I suspect that Tibby would be very jealous if you tried to bring him home. It is sad to call her name these days – after hearing about Mr Cotter at Beersheba. Nobody would have dared to shoot him if he’d had a cricket ball in his hand. It was awful news here; particularly after such a fuss was made when he joined up.
I’m glad the supplies made it through. Let me know if there is anything else you need and I shall do my best to send another parcel.
I hope you are safe and that you will be on your way home soon.
With all my love,