Recently my husband bought a box of stamps at an auction, and in it he found a letter from over one hundred years ago, written on and shortly after Christmas 1914. An amazing, lucky find—knowing my interest in both of the World Wars he left it on my desk.
The writing is small and in the old cursive style which I found a little hard to read in places, but I could decipher most of it. I could see the writer’s name, which I thought was Captain AD Chafer. However, I did a quick internet search of military records and was unable to find him.
Next day I began writing out the letter, to help make sense of it. Our soldier mentions sharing his ‘dugout’ with a Scottish International Rugby player, D M Bain. This gave us a starting point to help narrow down the regiment of the soldier.
After that links led us on and finally we found our man. He was actually quite well-known in military circles: Captain Alfred Dougan Chater of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders (7th Division), also known as Alfred Dougan ‘Mickey’ Chater. He fought on the Western Front from December 1914 until, in March 1915 at the battle of Neuve Chapelle, he received a serious shell injury which left his face disfigured. He was treated in Lady Hadfield’s Anglo American hospital in Wimereux, and survived the war. He married his pre-war sweetheart, Joy, in 1916 and later worked in the family paper business.
Captain Alfred died in 1974, and his 15 letters (which he sent to his mother and his future wife) only came to light after his death.
The letters look and feel original, but I am not an expert. I also wonder about their journey from Chater’s family to our doorstep in a box of stamps.
Here is a transcript of the first four pages of the letter which talk about the life in the trenches. The last three pages (not shown here) are of less universal interest as they are more personal, but are still interesting to me. http://www.scotlandswar.co.uk/pdf_Chater_Letter.pdf
Plus a link to a page on the Imperial War Museum’s website
Photo of Alfred:
An interesting article in the Guardian newspaper from 2014 mentions that Chater’s family gave The Royal Mail permission to use his letters for a set of stamps.
Further mention of Alfred’s letters are here
Part of another letter from Chater was read out by Captain Edward Harris of the Coldstream Guards, at the commemoration on the centenary of the outbreak of the first World War at Westminster Abbey in 2014. (page 10 of the document – A letter to Joy)
Link showing site of the Battle Of Neuve Chapelle:
We are still investigating how the letter got to us and would be interested in returning it to the Chater family.