Names of Interest, Stories Under the Tree, World War 1

The Letter

The screen door slammed behind Gladys as she came running into the house.

“Gladys!  Shut the door gently!” her mother called from the kitchen, where she was making lunch.

Breathlessly Gladys said, “The mail was in.  There is a letter from Hilton.”

Edith wiped her hands on her apron and reached for the letter.  It had been nearly two months since they had last heard from him.  She sniffed it, hoping for any smell of her beloved youngest son.

The Letter Robert Hilton Matheson WWI KIA“Set the table.  Your dad will be home soon.  We’ll read this when he gets here.”

As Gladys finished the final touches on the table her father arrived.

“Hello,” Robert said giving his wife a kiss. He noticed the letter waiting for him as he sat, “When did this arrive?”

“I picked it up when I went to the shops, dad.”

As they sat down to their meal Robert read the letter. Hilton sounded in good spirits as he told them of the good times he had with his mates in between the fighting.

“It’s good he’s upbeat. I can’t wait for this war to be over and we see him again,” said Robert. The women nodded their agreement.

A knock at the door brought them back and Gladys jumped up to answer it. “Hello, Uncle Alfred. Mum and dad are in the kitchen,” she said as she let him in.

Robert shook his son-­in-­laws hand, “Sit down, son.”

As he sat Edith noticed the pink paper in the Reverend’s hand.  She gasped, “Dear Lord, please, no.”



Robert Hilton Matheson, WWI, France, KIA
C.1906 Robert Hilton Matheson

Robert Hilton Matheson died 23 May 1918 in Somme, France one of the thousands from Western Australia who died in WWI.  Following his death, Edith and Robert renamed the family home “Hiltona” which can be seen in Electoral Roll records.  Gladys, my great-grandmother, and Hilton were the two youngest of ten children.  Hilton dying left only one son.  Reverend Alfred Lance married their older sister Ella May.  I do not know if he delivered the message, but after researching that clergymen usually delivered the bad news I thought it would be wonderful to weave him into the story.  This is the only photo I have of Hilton.







Read more of my ancestor fiction stories in Stories Under the Tree.

Do you have war heroes in your family?  Search the records at Findmypast by clicking the image to search for your hero ancestors.

16 thoughts on “The Letter

  1. Sad story 🙁

    I’m from Turkey and there are many Australians, which we call “Ansacs” died during World War 1 in the Turkish front. Turkish Republic addopted them and saw them as their own children and made a mousaleum for the deceased Australian soldiers in Turkish front. It’s a well known insident both in Turkey and Australia.

    1. Thank you Tyler.  It is indeed a sad part of both Australian and Turkish history.  The bond between our two nations over this is wonderful but sad that it came at such a cost.  Hilton Matheson died in France in 1918 and didn’t see service in Turkey but my paternal grandfather Howard was at Gallipoli with the British forces just after the ANZAC legend began.  One day I hope to get to Gallipoli to pay my respects to all the brave men and women of both ANZAC and Turkish forces.  

  2. That’s interesting. I like your site and the way you are keeping the memories of these people alive. Great way to look at history and the people that lived yesteryear. I wonder who my great grand parents were. I’ll be checking it out on one of your affiliate links. BTW Australia at the time had a population of fewer than 5 million people and over 400,000 men enlisted. The casualties and losses were huge with 60,000 men killed and over 156,00 wounded.
    Thanks for your post.

    1. Hi Dave,  

      Thank you for your feedback.  I want to keep the memory of my ancestors alive for years to come.  My children do not seem particularly interested at this time but I’m hoping in many years to come they’ll appreciate my efforts.  As you pointed out, WWI was a tough period in Australian history, as we did have a very small population and large numbers of men volunteered.  When you look at those numbers it equates to 8% of the total population who enlisted and 15% of those died in the war.  They are huge numbers in anyone’s book.  I am very proud of those men and their families for protecting Australia.  Did you have any ancestors fight in WWI?



  3. What a well written story. The end of it brought a tear to my eye as I could truly understand through your words the hurt in your grandmother’s heart for her son. I had many great uncles that fought in WWII and my grandmother used to talk about the war quite often. I even have a letter that one of my great aunt’s by marriage wrote to her beloved husband (my great uncle( while he was away. So very touching. Thank you so much for sharing a part of your history with us.

    Kind Regards,

    1. Hi Yvette

      WWI and WWII brought much sadness to many people and nations. Australia was no different, however being such a young country the number of men lost was such a large part of the population. Whilst this story is sad, it was lovely to weave a scene around the documents I hold. I never met any of the people in this story but heard about them from my grandmother and mother. You are so lucky to have an actual letter! I will admit being jealous.


  4. What a way of illustrating how scarce, and important, information was back when letters were the only source. And how learning that information all together was a family right, because it really could have been anything. In this case, it was the worst possible information, and I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels to lose a son. I appreciate how you are honoring your ancestors by telling these stories.

    1. Hi Penelope

      Isn’t it amazing how far technology has come in 100 years? When Hilton died telephones weren’t routinely in homes. Telegrams and letters were the main way of communicating long distance. As a child of the 1970’s and 1980’s I grew up with a home phone and the knowledge that went the street lights went on I needed to be home. Today we are so connected it is hard to switch off – phones, tablets, laptops, etc. Sometimes I wish for the slower pace of my childhood.

      As for Edith and Robert being faced with losing their youngest son – it is something I can scarcely imagine. He was part of a large family but I know his death left a gap even though I never met anyone in his generation I heard the stories from my Grandma and her brother and sister. The home was renamed “Hiltona” on his death as a tribute to him. I will honour Hilton again in the future as he has no direct descendants to speak for him.


  5. The story was very short, but sad. I liked it. And I feel so sorry for the thousands of families that had faced the same tragic news. Also, I like how you are keeping a reminder of your ancestors and history. My heart goes out to you and to every family who had faced such tragedy.
    Keep up the hard work,

    1. Hi Reim

      Thank you for your kind words.  WWI was such a tragic part of human history.  In Australia we had large numbers of men sign up relative to our population and we lost so many.  The story of the Matheson’s would have been repeated in numerous homes around the country and around the world every day – very hard to fathom.



  6. Megan:

    Even though you would love to have letters, it is awesome to have stories from your mother and grandmother. My maternal grandmother raised me after my mother died when I was three months old. I loved hearing old family stories she shared with me. I truly feel grandparents are the glue to the family and adored spending time with them. I am sure you will find more family jewels, soon.


    1. Hi Yvette

      This story is purely fictional but based on the records I have. I had to assume that this is what occurred as I never met my great-grandmother Gladys as she died shortly after I was born and I lived in another country. I hope that my story has done the family justice in the situation.


  7. Thank you for sharing this powerful story with us. It is sad, but I love the way you honor your family by sharing these. It really takes me back to the time period, as I read through you well written accounts!

    1. Hi Shelli

      Thank you for your kind words. I am particularly proud of this short story as I think it gets to the heart of what WWI did to families.


    1. Hi Aleksandra

      It is sad you don’t know. Unfortunately there were so many who died during the war whose locations have never been found.


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