Last lines from the front, by the father I never met

Alan Guarden
Alan Guarden
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It was a letter he hoped he could look back on and laugh about in his old age. But little more than three weeks after he wrote it, he was dead.

William Guarden had in 1944 committed to paper his fears of “the likelihood” that he would not return from the war, and thanked his wife, Ethel, for their “lovely life together”.

His story might have remained lost but for Ethel, who put away the tear-stained note for safe keeping.

Three-quarters of a century later, the son he never knew has read it aloud to the world.

It has emerged as part of a 75th anniversary sound archive, launched today by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to commemorate more than 100,000 service personnel who died in 1944 alone.

Mr Guarden’s son, Alan, from Harrogate, who was just a few days old when the letter was written, can be heard reading it on a new website, along with other, equally poignant testimonies.

“My Dearest Ethel,” it reads, “you know we’ve faced up to the likelihood I may not come back… but you know I feel I shall come back, because I want to so much.

“We’ve had a perfect married life together haven’t we? We must look forward to a more settled future. But if I don’t come back I want you know how much I owe to you and thank you for our lovely life together, and to let you know it isn’t my wish that you remain a widow, if you really fall in love again.

“I hope we can sit down one day and laugh at what I’ve written. Wish me a happy landings and be a brave lass, you’re not to worry or else the milk will go sour.”

Mr Guarden, who died on June 18, 1944, may have been referring to landings at Normandy in the wave that followed the invasion. His son had been born 12 days earlier – D-Day.

Alan Guarden would later visit his father’s grave. He said: “It’s a moving experience to visit one of these wonderfully kept war cemeteries, but of course when you’re visiting a particular grave it’s even more poignant. I think everybody at some point in their lives should visit such a place.”

The Commission is appealing to other veterans and their families to contribute to the archive, which it has called Voices of Liberation.

Andrew Fetherston, its chief archivist, said: “We believe that by capturing these stories from the public we are creating an archive of international importance and a lasting legacy for those who died for our today.

“We want people to share their connections to the war and our cemeteries to ensure that as Commonwealth nations we have not forgotten their sacrifice”

Among the oldest contributors to the archive is Victor Gregg, 99, who served with the Parachute Regiment and was captured and taken prisoner in 1944 at the Battle of Arnhem.

The military historian, Lord Ashcroft, whose father, Eric Ashcroft, took part in the D-Day landings as a young officer, is supporting the initiative.

He said: “I hope Voices of Liberation will provide an important and fascinating archive that will inform and entertain future generations.”

A raft of memorial services is planned for the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasions in June, with the Government having invited the last remaining survivors to take part.

The audio archive is at www.liberation.cwgc.org.