Tragic tales of love persevering through the mud and bloodshed of Passchendaele have been revealed for the first time.
Members of the public have unearthed letters sent 100 years ago from the trenches in one of the most infamous battles of the First World War.
Descendants of those soldiers have shared their keepsakes to encourage others to look into their family history and apply to be at the official commemorations in Belgium this summer.
First World War Minister Rob Wilson said:
"These fascinating and deeply moving letters show that love can survive even through the incredibly harrowing experience of the Battle of Passchendaele."
"I hope these stories will encourage more people to explore their past and apply to join in this summer’s commemorations of this infamous battle."
Among the letters that have been found by descendants are notes from Private Charles Snelling to his wife Alice and daughters in 1917.
Now owned by his grandson Bob Snelling, from Surrey, they reveal how a treasured photograph of Alice carried by Charles was discovered by chance in a wood in Belgium, months after he was killed in action.
It was found by a Corporal in the Soldier’s Christian Association and returned to Alice alongside a letter that read:
"Dear Madam, I am sending you these few photos found in a wood here in the battlefields here in France...
"I am very sorry to say I could not find the owner of the photos. I cannot say if he has been wounded or killed."
As well as letters, items still kept by Bob include an embroidered lace postcard (see top), addressed to Charles' "dear wife Alice...with fondest love from your husband", and depicting a garland of flowers and the Union Jack.
In "a little letter between ourselves" dated 26 May 1917, a few months before Passchendaele commenced, Charles, who served in the City of London Regiment, describes himself as "merry and bright". He writes:
"When this little picnic is finished we will have the old times over again making up for these months of parting...I want you to be of the same spirit as me and to have a good time with all and carry on just the same as you would if I was at home. Don't think that one laughing devil may care, don't think of tomorrow...You see I've lived and learnt so it won't be long old girl."
But after Field Marshal Haig gave the order for a renewed assault on the Ypres salient on 31 July, Alice heard from her husband only twice more.
In a letter dated 9 August Charles wrote to his two youngest daughter's Doris and Flossie:
"I was very pleased to get your pretty card and I hope that you are all enjoying yourselves...have a good time my dears and God bless you both."
The last communication Alice received from her husband was a short Field Service Postcard dated 14 August: "I am quite well. Letter follows at first opportunity."
Unbeknown to his wife, Charles had sent the postcard the day before he was killed in an attack on Glencorse Wood during the Third Battle of Ypres.
Following enquiries, Alice received news from the front that he was missing, his whereabouts unknown. Eventually the dreaded telegram from the War Office arrived in October, informing her Charles's body had been found and buried following the recapture of the battleground by British forces.
In another family's letter, Ann Phillip's uncle Edward Woolley (see below), known as Ted, wrote to his sister in the summer of 1917, a few weeks before the big push began.
He asks his sister to tell a lie for him about an ex-girlfriend who'd jilted him. He writes:
"I am glad you told me that you met Bessie and I think she is sorry now she throwed [sic] me up but I am glad and if you see her again tell her I have got another girl whether I have got one or not, tell her I have, but I am sorry for her if she has lost a brother out here."
Ted's brothers Frank, Bert and Arthur survived the war, but he lost his life on 22 August 1917 and his name appears on the Memorial to the Missing in Tyne Cot Cemetery, alongside 35,000 others like him who have no known grave.
In another letter preserved for a century, Private Albert Ford had to convey his love to his wife on a piece of paper before going over the top. This poignant letter home to his "dear beloved" wife Edith, is now kept by their great-granddaughter Louise Argent in Devon. Albert writes:
"My darling if this should ever reach you it will be a sure sign that I am gone under and what will become of you and the chicks I do not know but there is one above that will see to you and not let you starve…You have been the best of wives and I loved you deeply, how much you will never know."
"Dear heart do think sometimes of me in the future when your grief has worn a bit, and the older children, I know won't forget me, and speak sometimes of me to the younger ones…"
"Dearest if the chance should come your way for you are young and good looking and should a good man give you an offer it would please me to think you would take it, not to grieve too much for me… I should not have left you thus bringing suffering and poverty on a loving wife and children for which in time I hope you will forgive me."
"So dear heart I will bid you all farewell hoping to meet you in the time to come if there is a hereafter. Know that my last thoughts were of you in the dugout or on the fire step my thoughts went out to you, the only one I ever loved, the one that made a man of me."
Albert was killed in action on 26 October 1917. His last letter was treasured by Edith until her death. She never did remarry and as she lay dying in February 1956 she said she could see Albert in the corner of her bedroom.
As descendants of those who suffered the horror of Passchendaele, Bob, Ann and Louise have all applied for tickets to attend ceremonies in Ypres and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Tyne Cot Cemetery for the battle’s centenary on 30 and 31 July 2017.
To find out whether you have a link to someone who served at the Battle of Passchendaele, or the wider First World War, visit https://passchendaele100.org.