Contemporary newspaper reports reveal how young people didn't let the horrors of the First World War stand between them and finding love

The loneliness felt by the men on the front line and the women left behind during the First World War encouraged relationships to start through letters, with couples getting engaged despite never having met face-to-face. Contemporary newspaper reports from the period show how women were even encouraged by local communities to form friendships with lonely soldiers by writing to them.

Newspapers also published lonely heart adverts from soldiers in columns titled “Matrimonial" in which men would attempt to meet young girls in the hope of marrying them. The correspondences were considered by some as having disastrous consequences, with couples mistaking lust for love as young men and women were desperate for sexual experiences before it would become near impossible to have them. Continue reading to discover how all this was reported at the time.

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The Way to a Man's Heart...

In 1915, the Hull Daily Mail reported that through a local scheme, a housemaid named Mary was able to win the heart of a lonely soldier through sending cigarettes and a bottle of whisky concealed in a cake. The young soldier was so thrilled by her gesture that when on leave he paid Mary a visit and the pair got engaged within 72 hours of first meeting.

Moral Outrage

Bishop Frodsham raised concern in the Cheltenham Chronicle about young girls being allowed to answer advertisements from 'lonely officers' without any supervision from wiser women. He described the outcomes as 'often disastrous' with girls mistaking lust for love. 'Is it wonderful to learn that some such hastily made wife has sought protection in a court of law against a relationship that became intolerable almost at once?' he said in the 1915 newspaper report.

A Binding Contract?

In 1916, the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reported that a Miss Alice May Bishop attempted to sue a soldier named Edgar Johnson, 'for a breach of promise on his part to marry her.' Johnson had repeatedly promised to marry her in various letters until he decided to marry someone else.

Friends with (Small) Benefits

Soldiers and those at home, however, weren't just concerned with lust and love. The Western Daily Press published an article in 1914 titled, 'Friends wanted for lonely soldiers.' It stated: 'There are many lonely men, who have no friends able to send them small comforts in the shape of tobacco, cigarettes, socks, scarves, gloves.'

Godmothers Required

A 1915 report in the Manchester Evening News said that many soldiers who longed for a companion to write to, 'communicated privately to any kind-hearted woman or girl who would make herself a godmother.' The willingness to have a male companion meant young women signed up to be godmothers in their droves. 'In a very short time 90,000 godmothers have each adopted a lonely soldier, and the extravagant letters of gratitude they receive prove the comfort and joy they are able to give.'

Abnormal Times Call for Abnormal Measures

Marriage was certainly a source of hope to the millions of men in the trenches. In 1916, a Clara E.D Moleyns commented in the Woman's World Western Daily Press that, 'In those blood stained trenches, dreams will come to those soldiers that whisper of love and marriage'. She felt that it was not anybody's place to decide if these war weddings were right or wise because of the 'abnormal times'.

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