Dear Mrs. Pennyman

May 16, 2017 no comments

As part of our celebration of Local and Community History Month we were delighted to welcome to the library Dr Roisín Higgins who talked about the ‘Dear Mrs Pennyman’ project.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery, the project is digitising and researching over one hundred letters sent to Mary Pennyman during the First World War which were discovered by volunteer archivists at Ormesby Hall.

Mary Pennyman was secretary of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Widows and Orphans Fund, a role that required her to contact the families of Servicemen who had died. Her letters provided practical advice to relatives attempting to deal with complex war-time bureaucracy, but also much needed emotional support and expression in response.

In an admirable effort the library team steadied their nerves, managed to resist the wine on offer to the audience (although in a bold move Mike did go for some pre-performance cheese and crackers) and read from the letters.  We hope that we did a good enough job honouring those words written in such devastating circumstances.


Afterwards, Dr. Higgins described how the letters give voice to people often lost or forgotten in the tumultuous history of the period; wives and mothers left struggling with grief and, more often than not, large families still needing emotional and financial support.

In what was a moving and enlightening evening, audience members commented on the remarkable stoicism that the women demonstrated and also their longevity, many living to over eighty years old, despite the suffering and hardship they endured. Particularly powerful were those moments when grief broke through the formality of correspondence:

‘The news I had on Oct 3rd from my Husband’s Platoon Lieutenant was a bitter blow to me. As you say so near the end too. It’s all too hard to realise he will not return. It’s difficult to say “thy will be done,” but God plans all these things for the best, so I must be brave, along with other mothers & wives, who have lost in this dreadful War’. Bessie Walker, October 1918.

For more information about the project visit


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

54 + = 60