Thinking of you... during World War Two

Gill Parkes with the Valentine's Day card

A close-up of the card - courtesy of Durham County Records Office

Lt Col George Reay - courtesy of Durham County Records Office

First published in News Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Durham)

A DECORATED world war soldier let his British stiff upper lip drop a little in a previously unknown Valentine’s Day card home from war-torn North Africa.

Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Lieutenant-Colonel George Reay saw action at the December 1914 bombardment of Hartlepool and was awarded a French Croix de Guerre medal for heroism in the First World War and served in Algeria and Italy during the Second World War.

But he showed his softer side in a home-made card sent to his beloved wife Lily back in Over Silton, near Northallerton, dated February 3, 1944.

Against an African backdrop, British and French soldiers can be seen waving off a bird carrying a message home in its beak, as it flies upwards towards a heart pierced with Cupid’s arrow.

The hand-written message says: “Valentine, My Valentine, For I am thine and thou art mine”.

Elsewhere, Lt Col Reay writes: “Sounds awfully sloppy and is but what the...”

The message was sent by airgraph service, a method of getting messages from servicemen home during the Second World War using microfilm.

And the wartime Valentine’s Day story had a happy ending, as Lt Col Reay, originally from West Hartlepool, survived the conflict and returned home to North Yorkshire, where he lived out his days.

The card was retrieved by Gill Parkes, at the Durham County Records Office where a long-term project is cataloguing DLI records.

She said: “There were a huge number of troops overseas and it was important to keep them in contact with home. It was very important to people.”

Lt Col Reay enlisted in the Durham Royal Garrison Artillery on August 10, 1914, just weeks into the First World War, and was commissioned into the DLI in November 1915.

Transferred to the reserves in 1921, he was recalled in June 1940 and served overseas from 1943 to 1946.

He died on July 29, 1954, and his medals are kept in the DLI Museum, in Durham.

His Valentine’s Day card is one of a number of self-penned cartoon-style messages he sent home which still survive, including a Christmas message and a greeting from Italy.

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