Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Letter sent during World War 1 arrives more than 100 years late

Battle Of Marne – French Troops (1916)

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Receiving mail sent to the right address but wrong person is a frequent occurrence in every household. What is not so common, however, is when said post was sent to the correct address, but took more than a century to arrive. This anomaly just so happened to Finlay Glen in 2021 when he saw a letter come through the letterbox that was not stamped with the profile of King Charles III, nor Queen Elizabeth II, but King George V.

The theatre director, who lives in Crystal Palace, London, received the letter addressed to Mrs Katie Oswald March, sent from Bath on February 6, 1916.

That year, Britain was then in the full throws of World War 1. In fact, that very day, the Imperial Russian Navy sank Ottoman collier Irmingard, the largest ship to have been sunk by an air attack during the Great War.

But the war is far from the first thing on the letter author’s mind. Intriguingly, the letter begins: “My dear Katie, will you lend me your aid – I’m feeling quite ashamed of myself after saying what I did at the Circle.”

Katie was the wife of Oswald March, the local stamp dealer who died in 1951.

According to Stephen Oxford, editor of the historical magazine Norwood Society, the letter’s author was Christabel Mennell, the daughter of a wealthy local tea merchant, Henry Mennell.

Unfortunately, much of the letter is illegible, but some of it appears to discuss the author feeling unwell, describing how she is “miserable” with a “very heavy cold”.

The return address of the sender is the Lansdowne Grove House in Bath, where Christabel is believed to have been on holiday at the time. An address in Croydon also features on the letter but is struck through.

Speaking to the South London Press (SLP), the letter’s new Mr Glen said that receiving and opening the letter was a profound experience as he peered through a tiny window into these strangers’ lives from an entirely different time.

The 27-year-old said he and his girlfriend would bring out the “incredible” artefact to show friends from time to time like some sort of party trick. Other than that, it lived in a drawer — until now.

He said: “There was something weirdly moving about it, looking into these people’s lives, and that it was never delivered. I was shocked and curious about how it could have been sitting somewhere for 100 years.”

Mr Glen did also notice that it had a “passive-aggressive” tone, leaving him wondering whether the sender and receiver were relatives. This is thought to be the case as Christabel is believed to be Oswald’s mother.

Mr Oxford also told SLP: “The letter delivered recently to Oswald Marsh’s wife, once of Hamlet Road, Crystal Palace, has a fascinating story to tell about Oswald.”

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He continued: “He was a very successful Norwood entrepreneur – a stamp dealer who lived in a series of houses in the area.

“As a local historian, I was amazed and delighted to have the details of the letter passed to me and excited to find out more about Oswald Marsh and what he was up to just down the road from me in Upper Norwood.”

Although Royal Mail has said they have no idea how this letter found its way to the correct address some 100 years later, these incidents do occur “very occasionally”.

The letter is thought to have simply been sitting in the Sydenham sorting office near Crystal Palace all this time.

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