So, escapism is the thing at the moment. I haven’t got any real way of watching anything so I am reading, reading, reading. Have had ‘My Dear Bessie’ on my shelf for many months. A love story in letters. Set during WW2. Between Chris Barker and Bessie Moore. Exactly my kind of thing, really. It’s fascinating. The pair worked together years previously at the Post Office, and begin writing to each other while she’s going out with someone. Their love blossoms quite quickly and develops purely through their letters, their words.
In September 1943, Chris Barker was serving as a signalman in North Africa when he decided to brighten the long days of war by writing to old friends. One of these was Bessie Moore, a former work colleague. The unexpected warmth of Bessie’s reply changed their lives forever. Crossing continents and years, their funny, affectionate and intensely personal letters are a remarkable portrait of a love played out against the backdrop of the Second World War. Above all, thispreviously unpublished collection is a stirring example of the power of letters to transform ordinary lives.
The big shame is that barely any of Bessie’s letters have survived, 90% of the book is Chris’ letters, but oh how beautiful they are! They are so constant in this special kind of love. He’s always stationed in Italy and Greece and far flung places from London, where Bessie is. The frustration, but enduring love is extraordinary.
Even in the 1940s there are lots of dirty bits, and you can see why Chris felt the need to burn letters! They still try to be quite proper though. ‘Tips of your breast’ and ‘your vital vibrant spot’! Feel a bit awful that these were published, poor Chris would be mortified, I’m sure. But even the sex discussion/longing makes it all the more human.
Bessie was a terrible worrier, like me, but she was very intelligent, worked hard and could argue politics and current affairs brilliantly with Chris, and stand up for herself in work and everything.
It’s weird that she had to give up her job when she got married. and some of the stuff Chris says and expects have my inner feminist growling, but it was a sign of the times, and Chris truly cared about her, and knew how happy they could make each other.
You wait with bated breath for them to meet, as it’s so unlikely and waited for, and anything could happen. I wish they still had cause to write letters during these times.
They’re funny, emotional, addictive and a real snapshot of what the war was like. I don’t want to give anything away, but the brief chapters on what happened after are interesting and wonderful and emotional. I hated the letters coming to an end but at the last letter, when Chris was hours away from reunited with his beloved Bessie he signs off:
Dearest, Darling, Only One, thank you for all that you have been to me through these years, and be sure that we shall overcome with our love any difficulties there may be later on. I can never be as good as you deserve, but I really will try very hard, and I know you will help. We shall be partners, collaborators, man and woman, husband and wife, lovers.
I love you. I want you. I need you. ALWAYS.
I really was mesmerized. And jealous! I’m so glad they found each other and didn’t have any way to communicate except through ‘LC’ letter-cards. It truly is amazing. A rare, wonderful book and really worth reading if you are a fan of post and letters, and true love.
Scouring twitter during reading I discovered that Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey read the parts of Chris and Bessie for Radio 4 last year. Oh I don’t know if I could handle it. I found this clip of Benedict, lovely man, reading one of the letters on youtube.