THE secret grief and sorrow of the women of the First World War is being shared in a new exhibition exploring the life of the woman who consoled them.

Dear Mrs Pennyman: Reflections on Grief brings together the emotional letters and untold heartbreak of women who lost loved ones during the Great War.

The exhibition is on show at Ormesby Hall and the project is the brainchild of Dr Roisin Higgins, a reader in modern history at Teesside University.

She received Heritage Lottery funding to digitise scores of letters written by women during the First World War, and research their back stories.

About 100 letters were originally found at Ormesby Hall in Middlesbrough and had been sent to Mary Pennyman, whose husband’s family then owned the property.

As well as offering financial and practical advice in the emotional letters, Mary Pennyman, whose own husband was fighting in the war, offered the women comfort and the chance to speak about their sons and husbands – the accounts provide a personal insight into the loss they experienced and the struggles they were faced with.

Maud Wilson, whose husband was mortally wounded at the Battle of Mons in 1914, wrote to Mary Pennyman from Liverpool where she had moved from Dublin to be closer to her in-laws. Maud’s family remembers that times were very hard after her husband’s death and despite receiving a small bequest from her father upon his death in 1915, she had to sell her jewellery to provide for her family.

Florence Watson from Barnsley, whose husband had died in September 1916, wrote to Mary Pennyman about her three-year-old daughter Lily, who died of pneumonia and measles in 1918.

And Isabella Thomson, from Grangemouth in Falkirk, does not pause for breath in the retelling of her heart-breaking story. She writes about her great love for her 19 year-old son ‘Alick/Alex’ and her despair when he signs up for the army.

The exhibition in Ormesby Hall runs from October 8 and is available to view from 11am to 4pm. There will also be a public exhibition at Teesside University’s Constantine Gallery later in the year.

A reading of the letters to Mary Pennyman, with information about the women who wrote them, will take place in St Cuthbert’s Church, Ormesby, on November 11.