real life

"Our sun will be out very soon." These ANZAC soldiers' love letters are giving us all the feels.

There's something deeply special about love letters.

They make us feel warm and fuzzy, whether it's reading a love note sent from our own partner, or coming across letters sent between random couples decades ago.

For the past few months I have been doing the latter — reading accounts of love, hope and yearning from World War II era ANZACs.

Watch: Monique Bowley's failsafe ANZAC biscuit recipe. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

On Valentine's Day this year, The Australian War Memorial put a call out for volunteers to transcribe thousands of love letters contained in its National Collection as part of their digital platform Transcribe. So I decided to jump on board and volunteer. Thousands of these personal letters, diaries and other hand-written documents were then digitally released, many keen transcribers getting to work.

I didn't anticipate what a wholesome experience it would be — hearing real-life stories of love and connection. And considering the way of the world right now, these feelings are cherished.

"Reading these letters is like travelling through time. They were written in places like prisoner of war camps and front-line trenches," says Terri-Anne Simmonds, Head of Digital Experience at the Memorial.


The letters are an intimate insight into the daily life of couples separated by war, soldiers writing about their wishes to hold their partners in their arms once more. One soldier's love letter was written mere hours before he died in the landing at Gallipoli.

But it's the letters between Malcolm William Keshan and Dorothy Williams that struck me the most.

Malcolm was interned by the Germans as a prisoner of war between April 1941 and April 1945. During that time Malcolm and his partner Dorothy would communicate through letters, Malcolm also sending her flowers with card messages. 

He would sign off many of his letters with: "Very sincerely yours, Mac", followed by around a dozen kisses.

Dorothy would sign hers off with: "Cheerio for now sweet. Look after your old self. Always yours, Dorothy."

Love letters between Malcolm William Keshan and Dorothy Williams. Image: Australian War Memorial/Supplied/AWM2019.22.14.


Part of the collection are florist cards sent from Malcolm to Dorothy during the war. Image: Australian War Memorial/Supplied/AWM2019.22.21.


"I wonder what you would have said if I had kissed you that night on the train. I remember it well, that was one of the nights of our, or should I say my, week of weeks," Malcolm wrote. 

"Christmas is almost here once more but without you darling it's not much to look forward to. Still I can only hope that the next one proves better for us. I haven't changed since you last saw me, still the same old person — a bit older and thinner but just the same. Remember every day brings our day nearer. Until then sweet, all my love, Mac."

Dorothy wrote back in one of her letters: "Once again Mac my dear — look after yourself and come home safely to me. All those wasted years — years of worry and sadness will be forgotten when you sail into our Harbour once again. Perhaps they were not wasted years after all. They brought us together Mac, at least that's a little bit of silver lining to our grey cloud. And remember that clouds can't last long sweet. Our sun will be out very soon. Big Cheerio from us all, and all my love."

Robyn Van-Dyk is the Head of the Research Centre at the Australian War Memorial. 

Speaking with Mamamia, she says the AWM have around 15,000 collections in total. Of all the collections she has come across during her work, she says the Malcolm and Dorothy letters stand out the most. And for good reason.

"It's hard to hold on to and preserve all the letters from both parties. Reading the love letters each of them sent, it's a two-way conversation and that's rare to have survived given the background of war," Robyn explains.

"The survival of Dorothy's letters to him are particularly amazing, because he escaped with the trove of his partner's letters, all while he was a prisoner of war. It demonstrates just how very important they were to him."


Robyn is able to paint a deeper picture of their story too — Malcolm and Dorothy were teenagers when their relationship began, before the war. In those five years of being separated, all while in their very early adult years, they grow up as they write to each other. By the war's end, they get married.

"They were together for 68 years. Dorothy ended up donating the letters as she wanted them to be looked after. She found the right home for them with the AWM. They're just such a diverse collection of Australian expression. Reading the letters, you start to feel as though you know the people behind them. It creates so much meaning."

For these ANZACs and their wives and family at home, these love letters gave them hope. It allowed them to have good spirits and strive for their futures, rather than their dire realities.

As Malcolm wrote to Dorothy in 1944, mere months before his escape from the prisoner of war camp: "I do love you so very much darling. Just to be able to hold you in my arms and know that you are mine is a prize worth waiting for.

"Amid all of this, we are lucky because we have each other."

Feature Image: Australian War Memorial/Transcribe/Supplied/PR03970.

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