The Value of the Written Letter – a Story from World War 2

2nd world war

In August 1944, towards that latter part of World War 2, Chris Barker wrote to Bessie Moore in just one of some 500 letters which detailed the couple’s slow-burning, long-distance and passionate romance.

Barker and Moore had worked together prior to the beginning of WW2 in the Post Office where they dealt with business mail and personal correspondence.

Barker, who was then stationed in Northern Africa as a signalman, began writing countless letters to a whole host of acquaintances and friends, in addition to Bessie Moore and her boyfriend of the time, Nick.

She replied, stating that her relationship had ended, at which point, she confessed that all along she’d had feelings for Barker, feelings she’d kept well hidden. This sparked up a particularly lengthy correspondence during which the couple fell passionately in love.

Sometimes the letters were written in a comical fashion, other times more affectionately. Occasionally passionate, too.

The couple were to marry shortly after the conclusion of the war. However, the correspondence between them was not discovered until after Barker’s death by their son, Bernard. He claimed that he had no idea that his father was such a prolific writer, nor so deeply romantic.

One day, after his father’s demise, he opened a relatively small blue box that his father had gifted to him not long prior to his death.

From that box, Bernard found over 500 letters which were clearly written by his farther. The letters were scribed on particularly fragile blue airmail paper, and detail the everyday grind of war-torn London life, together with the danger and tedium of being a British Army conscript who had been posted to war-torn Northern Africa, Greece and Italy.

Custom business envelopes

But what was of key interest was that the letters expressed a timeless passion between the couple who were deeply in love and hoping so much to survive the “current storm.”

As it happens, only a handful of the letters that Moore wrote to Barker have survived. Barker opted to destroy many of them in order to prevent them from being read by others, irrespective he did in fact keep his own. Further, Moore herself decided to burn some of them at the end of the war after the couple had been lovingly reunited.

Those letters that do survive reveal her ardor towards Barker. They also, very emotionally, display her sheer relief at hearing that her lover had survived after a lengthy and protracted lack of correspondence from him.

She wrote at length about her nervousness to finally see him again after the months and years of being apart. She claimed that she was a “little scared,” and that everything they’d written to one another seemed larger than real life. Suddenly, she felt ordinary, too ordinary, and thus, she was afraid to meet Barker, her true love, in person.

The romance between the pair was first highlighted in a history of letter-writing, a book by author Simon Garfield. What remains of the correspondence has now been acquired by Canongate Publishing, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has been published under the name:

My Dear Bessie: A Love Story in Letters

The publisher stated that the book takes the most heartwarming, compelling, and alluring aspects to the correspondence, while conveying lust, deep yearnings, love, comical misunderstandings, as well as various elements of danger that are only ever experienced during a war.

Garfield, the editor, said that the volume is among the most compelling, heart-tugging, as well as hilarious correspondences that he’s ever read. He also said that he was aware of a great find as soon as he began to read through only the first few correspondences.

Bernard, the couple’s son, together with their granddaughter, Irena Barker, have provided an afterword to the Canongate publication which describes the letters as being a unique and remarkable example of the power of the written word in letter form which is capable of transforming ordinary lives to a life less ordinary.

The book was published on October 1, 2015, and is available in paperback from Amazon.

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