Letters From Our Heart edited by Jennifer Campbell

‘Letters From Our Heart’ is a book which will twist up your heart and squeeze out tears, some of happiness, some of laughter, and a great many tears of sadness, as you empathise with those whose correspondence shows their grief for their loved ones.

I had tears running down my cheeks reading the first letter in ‘Letters From Our Heart,’ and on reading more letters, I quickly found myself at the gulping stage, trying to hold back sobs. Eventually I just grabbed a box of tissues and outright howled as I read.

‘Letters From Our Heart’ is an apt name for this collection of letters which were collected by The Australian newspaper and edited by Jennifer Campbell.  The 100 letters in this book tell the stories of the lives of Australians through their correspondence from Australia’s past. 

A mother’s letters to her small son, telling “My Darling Geoffery” to be a good boy while she was dying in hospital had me bawling like a baby.

One beautiful letter was written by Alfred Deakin, Australia’s second Prime Minister, and was a love letter to his wife. His letter begins; ” Dearest of sweethearts & sweetest of wives.” Someone who received such a letter from her husband would be a very happy woman, in knowing how dearly she was loved by him.

In another section, there are letters written to children from their parents who were away from home, funny little stories about things happening at home and how much they missed their mothers. A letter from a homesick boy at boarding school begging his parents to take him home made me laugh, although the poor little fellow’s misery was dreadful. “O do take me home,” he wrote. Unfortunately the book didn’t say if his parents took pity on him or not on receiving his letter.

Others were written by early settlers, telling those ‘at home in England’ about their new lives in Australia. There were heart-rending letters from Aboriginal mothers and fathers, pleading with the authorities for the return of their children. Another love letter was by a convict, who was about to be executed. He asked his lover not to forget him “when I am far away and my bones is all moldered away.”

There are letters from soldiers describing their adventures in foreign countries to their sweethearts and families at home in Australia, a letter a father must have hated writing, in which he gave his son permission to enlist in the RAAF, and a sorrowful letter from a son at the front to his mother, telling of his sadness at the loss of another brother in the war.

One terribly sad letter from a soldier told grieving parents of how their son, “poor old Percy,” was killed.  The soldier who wrote this letter told went on to tell them of their son’s bravery and of his “decent burial”.

‘Letters From Our Heart’ ripped at my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much reading a book. The people who wrote these letters and those who they were addressed to were real people and their letters create a fuller picture of Australia’s history than reading about dates and places. Their emotions were real and no different to the emotions of people everywhere today.

 The book also made me realise how lucky I am to be an Australian living at this time. The hardships of those who come before me have allowed me this wonderful life. This book should be required reading for every Australian.

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