Friday, February 26

‘Take care of yourself, dear’: moving lyrics rescued from the shipwreck of 1941 | Manuscripts and letters

Fragments of a 1941 love letter to a woman named Iris, found nearly three miles under the ocean in a shipwreck, have been carefully reconstructed by experts, 80 years after their publication.

“Take care of yourself, darling, not only for your own sake …… for mine as well,” wrote the unknown military man stationed in the Waziristan region, now part of Pakistan. “Imagine I have my lips pressed against yours and my arms around you … let’s hope this bloody war ends soon.”

The letter is one of 717 that were never delivered by the freighter, the SS Gairsoppa, which was destined for the United States. The ship was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine on February 16, 1941. Of the 86 crew on board, only one survived.

The ship was almost three miles deep until 2011, when Odyssey Marine Exploration, an American company that won the British government contract in 2010 for the salvage, discovered it. The company recovered more than 100 tons of silver from the wreck, along with the letters, which remained mostly intact because they had been sealed inside the warehouse under tons of mail bags and sediment, protected from light, currents, heat. and oxygen.

Fragments of the love letter and the envelope fragment attached with a stamp and postmark.
Fragments of the love letter to Iris and the enclosed envelope fragment with a stamp and postmark. Photography: © The Postal Museum

“It is an anaerobic environment, so the corrosion is completely slowed down. And because there were so many mail bags put together, a massive percentage of all mail from the post office would have been destroyed, but a central part of this entire large pack of mail bags has survived – just 700 letters, there would be many more. . “Said conservative Eleni Katsiani.

While a handful of the ship’s most complete charts were displayed in an exhibition at the London Postal Museum in 2018The museum’s archival team has been working on some of the most damaged missives in recent months, piecing together fragments to reveal glimpses of wartime lives.

The letters were freeze-dried immediately after discovery, to stop the decay process, then washed in fresh water to desalinate them, Katsiani said, “an intense and slow process for each letter, but one that ensured their current condition.”

The Postal Museum’s main paper curator, Jackie Coppen, found the letter to Iris, which she described as “a tender testimony of love and longing,” written on “incredibly thin and fragile” paper.

“Like many of the letters, it has suffered, but despite missing areas, there is enough left to appreciate the feelings,” said Coppen. “Talk about hope and the future, profess dreams of hugging tightly and being together again. Not only does it evoke a romantic past, when the handwritten word sent through the mail was often the only means of maintaining long-distance relationships, but it is particularly pertinent in today’s times when many of us, wanting to hug our own loved ones They have also returned to the written word as a means to get there.

Two other letters are from a father to his daughter and son at the Inglewood Hotel in Torquay, where the museum believes they may have been evacuated, written on December 1, 1940. The father writes to his daughter Pam: “You can be I’m sure Mom will send you back to Wycombe when it becomes practical politics. In the meantime, we all have to make the best of things as they are: war has upset the dreams and ways of life of most people, including mine! “

A letter from a father to his son, written on December 1, 1940.
A letter from a father to his son, written on December 1, 1940. Photography: Postal Museum

He sends his son Michael a collection of used stamps from around the world, along with parental encouragement: “Your handwriting on your last letter is so much better than I’ve ever seen it save it: well done: keep it up and try to improve your spelling “.

“He also writes about how happy he is that his son is enjoying his bike, and how happy he is to join the Cubs,” Katsiani said. “It’s such a nice letter.”

Today, the curators have worked on less than half of the letters, giving, as the museum puts it, “an insight into the lives of ordinary people, who lived under extraordinary circumstances during World War II.”

“There were missionaries, business people, soldiers and generals writing, common travelers who had gone to India,” Katsiani said. “The letters talk about life, love, faith, business and, of course, the weather.”

“It feels kind of moving and appropriate to put these letters together on the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the ship,” Coppen said. “It is inevitable that, by putting the pieces of the letters together, I have come to form an intimate relationship with them; they are fascinating and capture a remarkable piece of life during a very significant period.”

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