Wednesday 31 January 2018

'Dear Lizzie, it’s nearly six months now since I saw you how I long for you and the children God bless you all. I love you more than ever…'

It was almost three months into Battle of Passchendaele when Private John William Mudd sat down in Belgium to write to his wife on 22 October 1917. 

John - also known as Jack - had married Elizabeth in 1908 and lived in Bow, London with their three children Mary, John and Ann.

He earned a living as a butter blender but like many men of his generation, the First World War disrupted his life at home. In 1917, he found himself serving with the London Regiment, first with the 7th Battalion and then 4 (City of London).

'Out here, dear we’re all pals, what one hasn't got the other has. We try to share each other’s troubles get each other out of danger. You wouldn't believe the Humanity between men out here...'

He wrote to Elizabeth about life at war and the friendships formed in the difficult, dangerous circumstances he and his fellow soldiers found themselves in. He himself had been in hospital but said that 'nearly all the boys from the 7th that came out with me have gone under poor fellows'.  

He described ‘Shorty’, a friend who would tell him of  a girl he loved called Hilda. Shorty wanted to marry Hilda and said he wanted to take her to meet the Mudds when he got home to England.. 

But, John told his wife, Shorty would not see his beloved Hilda again – he had been killed and as far as John knew, he did not have a grave and 'lies somewhere in the open'. 

'We are expecting to go up again in 2 or 3 days so dearest, pray hard for me…Well darling I don't think I can say any more at present. Goodnight love God bless you and my children and may He soon send me back to those I love is the wish of your Faithful Husband xxxxxxxxx Jack.'

On 26 October, his battalion was in action - he was reported as missing the same day. In an official notification in November, Lizzie was informed that the report he was missing did “not necessarily" mean he had been killed.  

The family placed an advert in the Daily Sketch newspaper in January 1918 asking for information about his whereabouts. Many families were in the same position as the Mudds and many of the soldiers reported as missing during the war were never found.

On 4 December 1918, Elizabeth finally received official notice that her husband was presumed dead. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium alongside 35,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.

In the 1990s, their granddaughter wrote to IWM and revealed what had happened to Elizabeth after the war. 

She remarried, to a man who had been wounded in the war, and 'had a very happy life'. But she always kept Jack's final letter – it even survived a direct hit from a Second World War bomb on her home in Bow.

Find out more about Private John William Mudd on Lives of the First World War

A pressed poppy sent home to the Mudd family is on display as part of Lest We Forget? at IWM North until 24th February 2019. Visit to explore the story of how the First World War has been remembered.

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