Letters a window to family's history

Sandra and Harold Bailey learn about family past through old war letters


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PROUD HISTORY: Sandra and Harold Bailey are enjoying the chance to learn about their family history through a deceased uncle's war letters.

PROUD HISTORY: Sandra and Harold Bailey are enjoying the chance to learn about their family history through a deceased uncle's war letters.

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WW II veteran Harold Rice's old letters provide a fascinating insight to the past.

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SANDRA Bailey was unsure what to do with her husband Harold's uncle's old war letters for well over 15 years.

But since Sandra decided to take them to Onkaparinga City Library, in South Australia, the couple have gained some fascinating insights into his years of service.

Harold inherited the letters of uncle Harold Rice - who served during WWII in D company of the AIF's 727th battalion, in 2002 around one year after the death of his mother Violet.

"There must be 50-100 of these letters, including all the telegrams he sent and the telegram which was sent to inform the family he had been killed," Sandra said.

Harold Richard Rice completed his training at Woodside before being shipped to the Middle East.

He returned home briefly after being wounded, but was then shipped to New Guinea - where he died in October of 1943.

Sandra said she eventually decided to approach the library so the letters could be digitised and read by future generations.

A staff member at the library took an interest in the letters and agreed to help research and digitise them if they would donate them to the South Australian state library.

Since then, she has become enthralled by his account of his years in service.

"I go up there each Tuesday. I've read a couple of dozen of them now, so I'm only in the early stages."

"There's a lot of very mundane stuff, but then there will be a line further down which gives a real insight into what his experience was like overseas."

Sandra said all the letters were addressed to Harold's parents and sister Lorna, so he avoided details about the brutality of war.

But the letters contain some fascinating insights - such as documenting what he would do during his time off - one letter gives an account of his exploration of Palestine on horseback, while others talk of swimming in the river and playing cricket.

It also provides some insights into army life.

"In one letter, they were going on a march for 50 miles, but only made 36 because they were too puffed," she said.

"They stopped, rested and marched a few miles more, but they didn't make the 50."

Sandra encouraged anyone with historical letters or information which may shed some light on their family's history, to approach their local library.

She said they would have to be willing to do some work themselves, but results could be very rewarding.

Harold said it was exciting to gain an insight into his uncle - whom he was named after.

"They could have quite easily been thrown in the rubbish, but I like things that are old, so I picked them up," he said.

For information about how to look into your family history click here

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