Mail was an incredible morale booster for troops on the Western Front, and a critical lifeline to the world they left behind.
Writing to soldiers was seen as a patriotic duty by many Australians, including Miss Phyllis Lynch who took her commitment to heart. Over the course of the war, she corresponded with 15 soldiers including relatives, friends, acquaintances and strangers—and she received 200 letters in return. These letters are now in a collection held by the Australian War Memorial.
These letters, postcards and even telegrams charted the stories and feelings of soldiers, in some cases over three years—sharing their hopes, fears, and dreams of returning to Australia.
Details of the soldiers are sketchy, in many cases with them just referred to by their first names, like Len, who wrote on December 23, 1916:
“Dear Phyll, just to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. It’s a bit late in the day, but I couldn’t get a card before. My foot is nearly right … will be back with the boys again soon.”
Her cousin Sam also wrote from a London hospital:
“…Hospital, well it sounds terrible to you at home, but I assure you it’s the best place I’ve been for nearly two years.”
And to put that into some perspective, George Davey, gave an insight into frontline conditions in his letter, using ‘Fritz’ to refer to German troops:
“I have not had a shave or wash for about 10 days. I could hardly walk and Fritz had been putting as much mud on me as he could with his wiz-bangs.”
It was the familiarity of the correspondence that probably gave the men the greatest boost, as they read their letters or penned their replies.
“Fred” from “Somewhere in France” (due to military censorship) wrote in April 1917:
“So you think I’m getting fat according to the snap I sent you”.
Details of Miss Lynch’s life after the First World War are not complete, but the collection of letters sent to her and now held by the Australian War Memorial are a moving legacy for future generations.
This collection is a time capsule that paints a vivid picture of men at war, and importantly, presents a snapshot of the Australian character at a significant moment in a young nation’s history.