INTIMATE letters from the Western Front are being displayed for the first time as part of a special exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
The series of letters was sent to British Army officer Colonel Leonard Messel, who was banned from the front line due to his German ancestry.
Messel’s family moved to England in the late 19th century and shortly afterwards they bought the 600 acre Nymans estate, near Haywards Heath – now managed by the National Trust.
The colonel was allowed to train troops from the Royal East Kent Regiment – many of which he formed close bonds with before they were sent to the battlefields of France and Belgium.
Throughout the war, they wrote to him nearly 500 times, revealing personal accounts of life on the front line which he kept in a bound book.
A Stanley Peters, 2/Lieut, written from his hospital in Rouen, France, in 1917 said: “You will guess by the address that I have been hit again but it’s not very much.
“The same night poor Sherren was killed instantaneously. We all miss him - he was splendid in the line. Far worse than the shelling, the machine gun and this new gas (which leaves big blisters) was the mud.
“It was indescribable. Several of my chaps went in up to their armpits and I am afraid quite a number never got out. Still, the stunt went splendidly.”
The letters the soldiers sent him are being exhibited at Colonel Messel’s former home, Nymans.
Rebecca Graham, from the house, said: “We are incredibly fortunate that the letters forming the basis of this exhibition have been so carefully looked after, firstly by Leonard Messel himself and then by his granddaughter Victoria.
“We can only imagine what it must have been like for him, having to stay behind while the men he had trained gave their lives for their country.
“He must have written hundreds of letters to them, and to their families, which obviously gave them great solace. This is their story, and this is our tribute to them all.”
The exhibition runs until August 31.
For more details visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nymans.
For an in-depth feature and interview with Colonel Messel’s granddaughter see next week’s Guide.