Page last updated at 12:40 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Letter celebrates Armistice Day

By Catherine Lyst
BBC Scotland news website

The letter sent from Edinburgh on Armistice Day
The letter describes how the town is "wild with excitement"

A letter sent from Edinburgh on Armistice Day, which celebrates the end of World War I, has been released for the first time.

Posted in the Scottish capital on 11 November 1918, it describes how "the town is wild with excitement" with "flags everywhere".

The letter, bearing the crest of The Ladies Caledonian Club, adds: "What a mercy this awful war is over."

The letter, sent to Strathpeffer, is from a collection by Dr Norman Watson.

Writing to a doctor in the Ross-shire town, the sender, J Scott, wrote: "The town is wild with excitement and it is a lovely day, flags everywhere and everyone carrying one. I have three stuck out of windows at home, Union Jack, Scottish Standard and the American one, joyful day isn't it?

"Princes Street is crowded with people, troops marching, bands playing, cheering, it is fine!"

Harrowing contrast

Dr Watson, a journalist who is a member of the Scottish Postal History Society, told the BBC Scotland news website: "I suppose it really is a unique little item - a personal eye-witness account of the day the First World War ended. That the envelope is postmarked 11 November 1918 adds to its importance, I think.

"You just get the sense that this woman is so excited with her three flags out. It must have been a terrific day.

"Letters like this from Armistice Day are howlingly rare," he added.

"People collected postcards but normal mail tended to be thrown out. To have an eye-witness account of what was happening in Scotland's capital is quite unique."

The envelope is dated 11 November, 1918
The letter was sent from Edinburgh and is dated 11 November, 1918

Dr Watson, who obtained the letter from a military collector about 10 years ago, pointed out that the postmark features a wartime slogan - Feed the Guns.

"Its quite ironic that on the day the war is ending, the Edinburgh post office is still using a patriotic slogan," he said.

Dr Watson also owns a postcard sent from Folkestone in Kent at 11pm on 4 August 4 1914, midnight in Berlin, the time of expiration of the British ultimatum to Germany - the moment World War I was declared.

He points out the stark and harrowing contrast to the Armistice Day letter.

Talking about the British Army leaving for France, the card begins..."Dear Aunty, managed to get away. Dreadful time. The mobilisation is dreadful. Everyone gone....The boat was so full you could not walk at all. The Channel is mined. There were hundreds of ships. The scene here is memorable....."

Dr Watson fears that in the days of e-mail and texting, letters depicting historic events will no longer exist in future.

"These letters give you a real feel for what was going on at the time," he said.

"But the art of letter-writing is slowly disappearing and there is a danger that people will stop writing letters altogether."

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