On April 5th 1918, on the Western Front in Northern France, 23 year old Australian bombardier, Gordon Iles, was killed by shrapnel from a German shell. On the 100th anniversary of Gordon’s death I have begun this site to bring together the letters Gordon and his family exchanged during Gordon’s time at war. The letters reveal intimate details of family and community life in rural Tasmania in the early years of the twentieth century. They speak to eternal themes of love, war and grief.
Gordon kept letters and photographs from home in his breast pocket, close to his heart. When the shrapnel that killed him tore through his chest it also tore through a letter written by his sister Florrie, a postcard from Devonport, some photographs and two birthday cards. Despite the passing of a hundred years, stains from Gordon’s blood are still just visible on the originals. I have chosen to begin with these items, not only because Gordon died with them, but because the holes in the fragile paper are emblematic of the gap torn in his tight-knit family by his death.
First is Florrie’s letter to Gordon, then a transcript of the letter. The postcard, birthday cards and photographs are below the transcription.
Florrie’s letter to Gordon, Jan 1918
This letter was written to Gordon by his youngest sibling, Florrie (Florence) Iles, then in her mid-teens. Florrie writes about the war effort and her family life, including a community fundraising event, an upcoming marriage, jam and wine making on the farm, the death of a neighbour’s son at the front and a failed recruitment drive at the Mersey Bluff. Other people mentioned in the letter are Gordon and Florrie’s father, Arthur Iles; their siblings, Sarah, Elvie and Tom Iles; Alex Dawson who became Sarah’s husband; the McGuire family who also lived in Thirlstane; and Pearl, Gordon’s fiancé. A transcription is included below.
Transcription of Florrie’s letter
Thirlstone, Jan 11th 1918
Just a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and well. hoping you are the same.
Well Christmas [is] all over [I am] waiting for next exmas. My word it was very quite this Christmas. there was two away for exmas dinner. I hope you will be home for next exmas.
We received your post cards all right and was expecting a letter every day. It was such a long time since we heard from you so we thought something had happened to you.
Auntie said she is sending you a birthday cake and hope you will get it safely.
I wish the war was over and you was home again. it would be lovely. I reckon you will be driving the car when you come home.
We had a dance last Friday night in aid of the O.W S and we took about £8 altogether. Tom sold the drinks and he took £1”8”0. I was raffling a Silver Tea Pot and got £1”8 […] for it. I think I [did…] well don’t you.
2/ Sarah and Elv have gone to Latrobe to today. Sarah and Alex Dawson is going to be married next Month and Elv is going to be Bridesmaid.
We are busy making jam and wine now. Dad is busy carting in. he will finish early next week I think.
Max Good is down from Wilmot. he is breaking in a young horse he bought from Dad. He helps Dad cart in, and after they finish work he goes to his horse till dark. They are going fishing tomorrow night. Dad is going to hire a boat at Squaking Point and fish with the net. There is a new house going up a Squaking Point and Murry’s are going to build I believe.
We have been having fine weather up till today. it is windy. We went to the Bluff on New Year’s Day and they had a recruiting meeting and only one man enlisted and that was a returned soldier. he said he was, so I suppose it was true. When he went up and started talking all the other young men all went away and would not listen to him. If you were only there to see the young men who was able enough to go to the war and wont go you would have something to grumble about. to think that you are fighting for the likes of Dan Collins and Bill. They ought to have been there long ago. They are afraid to show themselves.
3/ I was talking to Stan Collins one day in Latrobe. he was asking me how you was getting on and he wish to be remembered to you when I wrote the next time. He has been home a long time, long before exmas.
You know Jim Turner didn’t you. he is back too and young [Car…] from the Nook. Dad was talking [to] him on New Year’s Day and he also wishes to be remembered to you.
Poor Auther McGuire was killed on 28 December, his mother took it very hard. Les, Auther’s brother, is at Claremont now and is going away shortly. He is only sixteen this [Ma…] and he looks like a boy about [eighteen]. he signed for eighteen. His mother could not stop him. She stoped him once but [he] would not give her [peace] till she signed the paper. I forgot to tell you that Pearl was out here fore the dance. she came out on the night before the dance and Moss and some other girls came out and brought out a post card from you for Pearl and she wrote you a letter dance night the 4th of January. I wonder if you will [get it].
Well dear Gordon I think I have told you all the news for this time so I will ring off now with […] love from your loving and affectionate sister, Florrie […]xxxxxxxxxxx
Birthday cards to Gordon
Gordon’s 23rd birthday was only three weeks before his death. These birthday cards were from his parents, Arthur and Margaret, and his mother’s sister, Marion.
It is difficult to know who these two photos are from or who they are of. There is nothing written on back and the faces have been torn away by the shrapnel that killed Gordon.
Postcard from Devonport
This postcard is of a bandstand on Victoria Parade in Devonport. The handwriting and signature are difficult to read. I have included a partial transcription below. If you are able to decipher the words in the gaps below, please let me know.
Just a [card] to let you know that I am still over […] and having a good time. I went to a play the [other] night and the pictures on Friday night, […] you want a […] future over here, they […], but I suppose they have to or it would […] pay them. To-day is Sunday and I will be going […] the beach this afternoon, here I […] you were here. You would be able to […] even if you were at Devonport. I could take a run once […] the day and can be back by the night train. I have such […] what is wrong […] it. […] so now will end with […]