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{$text['mgr_teal1']} Cook 5

"Letters from two fronts": Arthur Unwin's writings to Annie

Transcribed by Alan D Craxford.


Arthur Unwin ('Appy) at work, a photograph taken in the 1950s

'Appy at work

Annie Cook, portrait from Leicester

Annie Cook

Preserved amongst the photographs and memorabilia of our cousin, Eva, were five letters written by her father, Arthur Unwin, to Annie Cook during the latter years of the first World War. Fragile now, yellowed and heavily creased from decades in storage they were written on thin, flimsy paper. Arthur was a boilermaker and fitter. He lived on the outskirts of Manchester. Her family came from Leicester. They met on holiday in Blackpool. He was 28 years of age; she was 29.

The first three letters (one from America, two from France) were written in 1916 and 1917. They come from the time that he was on active service duties with the Merchant Marine and he and Annie were engaged. The vessel is described as "SS Master Mariner" - Transport 855 - although no record of it has yet been found in the archives. Arthur and Annie were married in Leicester in May 1917. The second two letters were written after he been moved to a reserved occupation ashore. All were addressed to Annie's family home in Bosworth Street, Leicester. They were still living 100 miles apart. Although detail was of necessity limited because of the wartime censorship restrictions, they give an interesting snapshot of work, courtship and family life in wartime nearly a century ago.

New Orleans: April 1916

Letter from New Orleans: April 1916

Letter from New Orleans, Louisiana 1916
The stamp was culled for an amateur collection. The frank mark shows 7:30am April 17th 1916.

S.S. M'ter Mariner
New Orleans
U.S.A. South

April 16/16

My Dear Annie     At Last
I suppose you will be very anxious as to my whereabouts as it is such a while since I wrote to you. Now you want to know where I've been, isn't that so, kid. We went to an island off the south of Greece out in the wilds. We were there 6 weeks. It was a most monotonous time I can assure you as we were unable to get ashore. From this place we came out to the States, a run of 5 weeks and leave tomorrow for France. I wish it was England we were bound for. Well it may be when this cargo is discharged. Oh, I received three of your letters altogether. They came by one of the M.O.W. ships and you can just imagine the joy I got whilst reading them. You wanted some more handkerchiefs but am sorry I'll have to disappoint you as we did not call at Malta. Am pleased you liked the others. It's a pity they were so small. Well Nan I can't tell you what port we are going to or what cargo we have and this that and the other for Mr Censor won't allow it of course. I've lots to tell you when I get home. We will be about 3 weeks going to France and should we go home from there it will be about 5 or 6 weeks from this date. So Nance dear, don't worry yourself. I'll see you in a little while. So goodbye and give my kind regards to all at Leicester. From your loving
    Sweetheart    Arthur xxxxxxxxxxxx

Bordeaux: April 1916

First letter from Bordeaux, France: April 1916

Letter from Bordeaux, France 1916.

M'ter Mariner
October 28th/16

My Dear Nan
I received your letter of the 20th and by its contents you certainly are in high glee. Well I am also. It's grand to think we will shortly be seeing one another. Now you will want to know how long we will be here. It will be about another 14 days yet before we leave. The men are doing very slowly on the repairs. Then there is 4 to 5 days voyage home. So you see it will be about 3 weeks before we arrive in England. I cannot say to which port we will go as it is not yet settled but there is talk of the Bristol Channel. Anywhere but there. It's a damn miserable place. Of course we have no say in the matter. Its the Govt all the time. Well we will be 2 to 3 weeks at home as there will be more repairs to be done. These we are getting are only temporary. Am looking forward to spending a few days at Leicester. Oh, I received about 8 of your letters the other day that should have reached me last voyage dated Feb, March and April. Of course they were very interesting to read and contained some nice little bits. In one you say you had some good yarns to tell me. In another some books awaiting my return. Yet you never said a word about them when I was home but the stay was short and probably they slipped your memory. Well, don't forget this time. Also the incident in the park your friend saw. It must have been a sight "What, What!" and all the lights out at that. You and I will have to see that the gate is shut. I am pleased to hear Daisy is being looked after so well. P- will be in his Sunday best. Am sure he will look fine in uniform, what say you? Have got some P.C.s of various places for you. Also some books. Am just going ashore so excuse short letter. Will write in a few days and let you know how we are progressing. So goodbye for a little while and the best of love from
Your true lover
Arthur xxxxxxxxxx

Bordeaux: March 1917

Second letter from Bordeaux, France: March 1917

Letter from Bordeaux, France 1917.

M'ter Mariner
Tuesday March 20/17

My Darling Nan
We arrived in the river yesterday and docked this afternoon so I must not delay you with the news, by my God, what luck. Well, we are here and that is everything. How pleased I was when 5 of your letters and one from home were handed to me this morning. Oh it was grand to know I have such a love as yours. It brightens my life, dear, to think of you. You ask if I think of you when away. Why, most decidedly, dear, yes and won't be happy until we are together for always. So Nell came through alright. That's nice and a little boy. Oh Nan. I am pleased what you want one. Well I'll buy one in the States or send Wilson a Note about it. Go on laugh. All jokes aside I think we will manage A1 when the time comes. Oh yes I'll look after P-. Now what is this illness you have had dear. Was it something to do with D-. Well, keep her warm. We may come home from here and I don't think I will go to sea again. Well dear, this is only a short note to ease your mind. Will write you a long one before weekend. So goodbye. The very best of love from
your true lover Arthur xxxxxxx
Mter Mariner
Transport 855
c/o Brisiths Consul
Please write above address we will probably be here 16 or 18 days.

Continued in column 2...

Manchester 1: July 1917

Eccles envelope

The envelope. Although heavily franked ECCLES,
the date and time was 7:15pm July 1st 1917

Letter from Eccles, Manchester: July 17

First letter from Manchester 1917.

182 Barton Lane

My Darling Wife
It was simply lovely to receive your letter yesterday. I did enjoy it. So you are unable to come for Saturday. Well dear I will leave it to you to come as soon as you are ready but let me know about a week before so that I can fix up. It's no use finding apart(ment) now and not knowing definitely when you will be here, is it dear. Now you will be anxious to know how I am progressing. Well dear I have struck a home. Am on the engines for the tanks. The firm have an order for 600 and there are only about 6 finished. So you see that will be work for about 12 months; that is if the war isn't over by then. I wont mind if I can stay until it is all over and the pay. Oh for what: go to sea for a living? Not me. Well dear I'll tell seeing I know you. It runs £5 a week on nights. It's far more than the day men get. Arthur knows a thing or two. On regular nights it's far better so we will be able to save a nice bit every week. Have something else to tell you. Have received my calling up papers this morning. I thought as much after registering but don't get alarmed Nan. I will be alright. The firm can't get enough fitters. They are sending them from the front back in the shops; so it sounds to reason they won't take me. All I have to do is to hand them in at the office and they will attend to it. So don't worry dear. If others can get out of it, am damn sure I can. Now think on love you have promised me some sauce next letter so let me have a little please. You know P- is waiting patiently for his weeks big push. Talk about the push at the front it wont be in it nothing to be compared with ours when we hit the 100 mark. I could just go a matinee now. How are you fixed. Well Nan do try hard to be with me in a fortnight's time there's a love and I'll lend you P- for a while. Don't forget will you darling, 2 weeks. So I will say goodbye for the present and the best of love
from your Ever Loving Hub, Arthur xxxxxxxxxx

Manchester 2: 1917

Second letter from Eccles, Manchester: 1917

Second letter from Manchester

182 Barton Lane

My Darling Wife
Please forgive me for not writing for such a long time but I wish to give you my reason. It is this. There has been some trouble at the shop and I waited to see how things turned. Well this was the grievance. These has been a constant night shift for over 2 years and now the day set want to change over on a months about. So the night men have been up in arms and also the day men and there are a lot of men who asked for permanent nights and now it puts them in a very awkward position because in most cases they will have to get up at about 4-30am (up in the morning's the game) Well we had a meeting tonight and it has been decided that men residing over 6 miles away were to have constant nights so that means I will come under it. The shop is about 9 miles from Eccles. So you see it spoiled my plans if I had to go months about. I intended you coming to Eccles and would get a home here. There are apartments here for us at 12/- (shillings) a week. How is that. You know the Co-op at the bottom of the street. Well it's a house near there. Will it suit. We will be alright until we get a home and when the war is over am going on the (Manchester Ship) Canal if poss. Now the question is when will you be able to come. Do be quick, there's a dear. What with being without you and the damn trouble at the shop it's enough to turn a man to drink. Well love do write by return and state when you will come and I will go and fix up. So forgive me love for such a delay won't you Nan and come up soon. Give my best wishes to all at Leicester and I hope your Ma and Dad have had a good holiday. We are having 5 days at Aug. so do come and we can arrange something for then. Well I'll say good night and the Best of
Love with it from your
Loving Husband, Arthur xxxxxxxxxxxx


Annie did move north to join Arthur and they set up home in Patricroft on the outskirts of Manchester. They had two children, Jack and Eva, and Arthur did find work on the Manchester Ship Canal at Barton upon Irwell. More of the story can be found in Eva's article: The Long and Winding Road from Barton to Barton.

Page added: February 2nd 2011
Last updated: April 6th 2012

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