Letters from the trenches
During the First World War a loving father in the French army bore the grim horror of the trenches by sending his beloved young daughter quirky drawings and witty letters.
Nearly 100 years later his grandson has shared these glimpses into the life of an ordinary soldier with the Croydon Guardian.
Paul Elliot, 67, from Selsdon has more than 80 drawings and correspondence between his mother Yvonne and his grandfather Raymond Jean Arnaud.
Mr Elliot’s grandfather was born on a farm in France. He trained as a chef and after completing two years of national service, he moved to London in 1910, with six-year-old Yvonne to work in the Marriott Hotel.
Mr Elliot said: “He left his wife in France. Like many frenchmen he took a mistress Rosalind Smith.”
When war broke out in June 1914, the French army mobilised and Raymond was recalled to active service. Fearing for the safety of his daughter and Miss Smith, he took them back to France to live with his wife on a farm in Autrans, a village near the Swiss border.
He would not see them again for four years but kept his spirits up by writing to his daughter. He sent her a number of drawings of the people he encountered, licensed French prostitutes, other soldiers and German prisoners of war.
Mr Elliot said: “He started writing in English so she would not forget her English he would say “Daddy is alright” knowing he was far from alright, he was serving in the trenches.
“My mother wrote about working on the farm and looking after the cows and how she was frightened about taking them out for the first time.
“He says what a lovely little girl she is and he is proud she is learning to cook biscuits. He talks about how he is helping his friends and hopes she is doing the same.
“He says she is always on his mind when he is in the trenches. He really loves her and sends her hundreds of kisses.”
After the war ended, the soldier moved back to London to resume his work in the Marriott and married his mistress in 1921, although still married to his French wife who died in 1923.
Mr Elliot said: “He died in 1926. After four years in the trenches, he liked his wine a little too much and he died of sclerosis of the liver.”
His daughter, who lived in Norbury, treasured her correspondence with her father, passing it on to her son when she began to suffer from Alzheimers in her later life.
Do you have a Heritage story? Call 0208 330 9559.