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Letters from the Far East

Letters brought comfort to men and women in the Far East, many of whom were spending time away from their families for the first time.

The war kept men and women away from their families for long periods of time. For many this was their first time being away from loved ones and was a lonely experience. 

Letters brought comfort to many and helped them through difficult times. 

Help us remember the forgotten history of those who served in the Far East

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West African and Indian troops bathing in a stream
West African and Indian troops bathing in a stream

For some soldiers communication was easy but for soldiers from pre-partition India it was not straightforward.

Letters were censored, similar to the experiences of previous Indian soldiers during the First World War.

For some soldiers communication was easy but for soldiers from pre-partition India it was not straightforward.

Letters were censored, similar to the experiences of previous Indian soldiers during the First World War.

West African and Indian troops bathing in a stream

Many relatives at home were illiterate and relied on those soldiers to write letters to be sent back home, which would be read to them by a neighbour or friend.

Letters being sent back to families in India were written in several Indian languages – Tamil, Gurmukhi, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali.

Portrait of Abdul Hafiz, awarded the Victoria Cross: Burma, 6 April 1944
Jugri Begum, widow of Jemander Abdul Hafiz V.C. of the 9th Jat Regiment, with her three month old daughter

Rao Abdul Hafiz Khan VC

For all men serving in the war, leaving families behind was hard. The separation was not easy on families left behind either, many wondered if their men would return and if they did return would they be injured. 

The story of Rao Abdul Hafiz Khan, Victoria Cross recipient, is an example that men contributing to the war efforts could not guarantee that they would make it home. 

Born on 4 September 1925 in Kalanaur village, Punjab. Naib Subedar Rao Abdul Hafiz Khan joined the Army as part of the 9th Jat Regiment, a mixture of Sikhs and Muslims. 

Naib Subedar Khan was a Muslim. It was his efforts on the 6 April 1944 during the Battle of Imphal that made him an Indian recipient of the Victoria Cross. 

When ordered to attack with his platoon a position held by the enemy, the only approach was across a bare slope and then up a steep hill. 

Naib Subedar Khan killed several of the enemy with machine gun fire, but was injured himself. During the attack he was shot twice, the second gunshot killed him. 

The Victoria Cross was awarded to his widow, Jugri Begum. 

Naib Subedar Khan left behind a wife and a three month old daughter that he never got to see.

Images: © IWM IND 3508 / © IWM IND 3507
 
 
 

Poetry

For many men, letters were not the only way to express their feelings and emotions. There was also a range of poems written by men during the Second World War.

With the war stretched over the years, it was no surprise that loneliness would strike.

John Wedge was born in 1921. He served in the Royal Navy during Second World War, first as a telegraphist in minesweeper HMS Norse, then as an officer in HMS Worcester, Garlies. 

His poem, Still no Letter, is a stark reminder that the war affected everyone and loneliness was felt by men and women. 

Still no letter

There’s still no letter...

In my troubled mind

I seek a reason, and quickly reasons find,

Indeed they tumble in, to be discarded

Each as it comes.. It could be that

You’re very busy; missed the evening post;

Or else it’s held up in the mail. A host

Of explanations.. Yet that gnawing fear

O’errides them, still dunning at me that

You just don’t want to write. And vainly I

Attempt to thrust aside the thought; deny

It was with your last note, and the one before.

But no. I must resign myself to wait

Until tomorrow, or the next day and

A day. Surely then I see your hand-

Writing and envelope. And life is sweet, until

A week or so, when…

Still no letter

Men who did not join the war effort were considered cowards and Wedge voices the concern of no or little communication. 

It was not just families at home waiting to hear; knowing what was happening to loved ones is what helped men in the trenches and battlefields. 

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