Home   Bury St Edmunds   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Suffolk regiment's Dunkirk letters and why they took decades to reach their final destination

More news, no ads


Eighty years ago, allied forces were retreating hastily towards the beaches of Dunkirk, driven backwards by advancing German forces.

As they were being encircled and pushed back to the sea, some of the soldiers, who part of the Suffolk Regiment, found a moment to write a letter back home.

The postal van carrying those letters never reached its destination however, and was abandoned, before being discovered by a German officer.

The letters finally reached their destination after 80 years
The letters finally reached their destination after 80 years

He took the letters back home where they sat in his attic for nearly 30 years, before he decided to take them to the British embassy in Bonn in 1968.

From there, they were passed on to the Suffolk Regiment Museum which attempted to deliver them to surviving family members.

Some of the 41 letters were delivered, but many could not be reunited with the intended recipients or their family members.

After some thorough detective work, one of the letters has finally been delivered to Derek and Clement Cole almost 80 years later.

The two men are the younger brothers of Harry Cole, who wrote the letter while retreating to Dunkirk.

Sadly, he never made it home.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of Dunkirk's historic evacuation, staff at Suffolk Archives have put extracts of the letters together into an online display, which can be found by clicking here.

In addition, the letters have formed part of a project called 'Special Delivery' which aims to bring primary school children and care home residents together with artists to explore themes around communication.

Claire Wallace, curator of the Suffolk Regiment museum, said "The Dunkirk letters hold an important place within the Suffolk Regiment archive. These men had been through great hardships during the war and unfortunately, some never made it home from Dunkirk. It is striking, however, that their personalities and humour shine through these letters. I am delighted that Suffolk Archives have been able to reunite one of the letters with the soldier’s family."