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Dillingham letters

Letters of Richard Dillingham of Flitwick

It is at this time of the year that our thoughts turn to the men and women who lost their lives fighting throughout the world during numerous campaigns. In Bedfordshire towns and villages war memorials were erected in memory of them. One of 28 men listed on the Flitwick war memorial who died in the Great War is Private 42041 Richard Dillingham, aged 26. He was born in Derby but lived in Flitwick with his wife Christine, and their two children, Ben and Richard. His letters home to his wife were kept by his family and copies of these are now currently being catalogued here at the Archive Service [Ref. FAC159/1]. Like many other men in the First World War he went off to fight hoping it would be a short war, and that he would return safely to his family and friends.

The letters are a revealing snapshot of what life was like as a private soldier in the British Army during World War One. They show how Richard had to endure drill and fatigues and poor living conditions including lice infestations and rats in the sleeping quarters . There is an insight into Christmas 1916, when the soldiers were allowed an extra hour in their blankets. Richard wrote: "it was a grand dinner we had 4 turkeys, roast beef, plum pudding and prunes." Although hundreds of miles away in France his thoughts often turned to home where he wondered how his wife and children coped for coal, meat, and groceries, and whether the sweet peas were out in the garden.

The main series of Richard Dillingham's letters cover the period from June 1916 when he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps Balloon Section at South Farnborough Hampshire, to November 1917 when as part of the 7th Lincolnshire Regiment he was killed in action along with 55,000 other soldiers in the defence of Ypres Salient. It is thought that he was badly wounded and was being carried away on a stretcher amid terrible bombardment. A direct hit by a shell is believed to have killed them all.

Richard Dillingham is remembered today at a memorial built into a wall at the Tyne Cot cemetery in Zonnebeke, West Vlaanderen, Belgium, as well as at the War memorial in Flitwick.

If you are researching ancestors who were killed in the two world wars the Bedfordshire War Memorials and Rolls of Honour website at is very useful not only for Bedfordshire but other counties. It has details of numerous war memorials in the county from Campton to Vauxhall Motors Ltd in Luton. By clicking on the relevant place a list appears of those people on the memorial. In some cases there are more detailed histories of people listed. The site also gives the location and a picture of the memorial. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at is another useful source and contains the "Debt of Honour Register" which lists the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars and the 23,000 cemeteries memorials and other locations around the
world where they are commemorated.