Sister's letters brought news from home

Name: Emily Stewart
Date: 1916–1918
Unit: Civilian
Location: Australia - Sydney, Brisbane

Letters from home were among the most important elements in the lives of troops in World War I. They brought news of the family and friends and helped provide a little brightness in the lives of those fighting for "King and Country".

Emily Stewart wrote regular newsy letters to her brother Alf Stewart who was serving in France, decorating many of the letters with drawings of flowers, people, a baby chick carrying a letter in its beak and similar subjects. She always addressed him as "Dear old Alf".

Alf was the youngest of four children and the only son, five other boys having died at birth or in infancy. Their mother had died in 1899.

Members of the Stewart family were very religious and regularly attended the Congregational Church [now the Uniting Church] in Kogarah.

Emily was a housekeeper and in August 1916 moved to Brisbane to look after a family in the suburb of South Toowong, where the wife was "rather delicate and has to rest a bit" due to the impending birth of a baby. There were two boys, Hal aged seven and Vic aged four.

In September 1916, Emily wrote to tell Alf she had posted a small parcel containing tins of butterscotch and toffee plus some magazines.

"I would have liked to send you something real nice for your birthday but there are only little shops in Toowong & no selection of articles but it was just a little thing to let you know I hadn't forgotten you."

She congratulated him on his promotion to Lance Corporal.

"Good luck to you anyway old boy & may there be more promotion for you before long."

After learning that Alf had been wounded and evacuated to England Emily wrote:

"I am so glad you are getting so well looked after. God has been taking care of you all the time. What must it be for those that have no faith."

In October Emily wrote:

"As there is another mail for the A.I.F. tomorrow I must drop you a few lines. The Brisbane Courier always has notices regarding the mails for the A.I.F. so I always know when to write to you.

"Polling returns for conscription so far the majority for 'NO' is 84,426 in Australia. New South Wales is for 'NO' Queensland and S. A. ditto & Vic, W. A. & Tasmania for 'YES'. But the returns are not all in yet."

The job in Toowong came to an end after the wife was able to resume her role as mother following the birth of a daughter, so Emily returned to Sydney.

"You will see I arrived home safely. I got in yesterday from Brisbane, after travelling 715 miles, not counting the 7 from Sydney to here, without a break hardly enough though to you, who are such a traveller that would not seem very much."

"The trip down was rather interesting, and as it took over 27 hours, you can imagine I saw some scenery. We have had bountiful rains, and every where the country is so beautiful and green.

"I could not help thinking what a beautiful country ours was, and surely we must be favoured that Australia has been kept from the contaminating touch of the enemy.

"Hay-making was in progress & here too like in the old country women were 'doing their bit'."

On New Year's Eve 1916, Emily wrote about visiting Connie, Alf's girl friend.

"I went round to see her 'Glory Box' last night. I was very pleased to see her treasures especially as she said it was your 'Glory Box' too."

In her next letter Emily wrote she had a new job at Edgecliff looking after an old lady.

"She is not at all strong and has just got over an illness, and needs some attention."

"Dear old boy I feel confident that God is going to bring you back to us, and that your life is going to continue to be a bright shining light. Do you think that faith like yours is for nothing? Not only your faith and prayers but ours too.

"A little while ago I was feeling depressed & was not well, and one of your dear bright letters came along and you don't know how it helped me. I quite agree with what you say about God's plans being altered by the prayers of His followers. Wasn't it Abraham who wrestled with God till he got the blessing, but I think dear boy, that God intended to let you come home again anyway and to make your life a very useful one as you wish."

In another letter she wrote:

"You will have heard all about Daylight Savings Scheme & that opinions differ as to the benefit of it. I personally rather like it, as the evenings are nice & long and I am able to do a little bit of gardening etc after tea."

Emily continued to write to Alf every month and must have brought a great deal of pleasure to him. In return, Alf wrote often sending 'Dear Everyone' letters which were distributed around the family.

Despite all the prayers, Alf did not survive the war. He was killed on 20 September 1917 and was buried at Belgian Battery Corner at Ypres [Ieper].

A call went out for volunteers to rescue a wounded soldier, Sgt M Watson, in no man's land. Alf volunteered and was bringing him in when he was wounded in both legs. Both men were later taken to a nearby shell hole for shelter and whilst waiting for the return of stretcher bearers a shell landed in the hole, killing Alf.

The family was devastated by Alf's death. They received a letter of sympathy from a close family friend, Daisy Darvill.

My dear Edith, Emily & Isa,

What can I say to you dears, I don't know, my heart is too, just too full for you and Pa.

Trixie's letter has come telling me of Alf's passing, hence for him -a step from Hell into the Maker's presence, whom he so faithfully and beautifully served.

Oh, dear girls, you cannot think how Alf endeared himself to us while staying here. My mother and my sister-in-law just sat and wept together when I read the letter.

He was so fine - so splendid - so true - just such a one as my cousin who was killed last week, both the sons of many prayers.

Dear Alf was so full of plans for work in the future - he meant to give HIS BEST for the extension of God's Kingdom - his beautiful ideals I'll never forget, and of how he spoke of you all and Connie.

Oh he will go somewhere in the LARGER LIFE. Alf will 'carry on'. He thought of working here, God saw he was fit for NOBLER SERVICE.

In my soul I am satisfied why many of the best of CHRIST'S saintly knights have gone over - So many are gone too - will they not be TEACHERS of the ignorant? I feel confident they will.

Try to think of Alf in this life - as a helpful teacher to those in life who like himself, have fallen in a GREAT CAUSE but fell in darkness of the real knowledge of God and of His Son - What a beautiful comfort you all have. Oh, yes, your sorrow is so deep that comfort seems out of the way, and yet the most wonderful consolation is yours.

How glad your dear mother must be to have her last baby with her, a grown up man and so worthy!

I won't write further at this time. My heart is just so full of loving sympathy for you all, especially I think of Pa - his only son!

Dears, take for yourself the love and sympathy I feel in my heart for you but cannot express.

Please convey my heartfelt sympathy to Pa. With love from my mother, sister-in-law, together with my brother's sympathy and with tender love from your loving friend, Daisy Darvill.

Material for this article was supplied by Margaret Wilmington of New South Wales.


Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Sister's letters brought news from home, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 25 September 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/sisters-letters-brought-news-home
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