Love Letters in Wartime

During the covid pandemic we have all experienced separation, from loved ones, loved activities, beloved places.

This Valentine’s Day, take a moment to reflect on those who were forced apart by war, leaving loved ones, putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our country. To help, we’re offering up the letters of Flight Sergeant Ted Gowing during World War 2, to his sweetheart Barbara, herself a physiotherapist and Lieutenant in the Australian Medical Army Service.

These letters were written as Ted travelled to war. How poignant is his optimistic tone, so unaware of the grim experiences ahead. Here is the first, penned on 4 April 1941, addressed simply as ‘At sea’.

Ted talks about being feted in New Zealand, where the young Australian servicemen are already being treated as heroes. He and his mates go to ‘a dance that was being held for us’ and parties where there will be ‘lots of beautiful girls’. Yet always his love for Barbara is on the page, ‘It wasn’t a bad show although I wished you had been there and then it would have been a really good party.’


              How I wish you could be with me on this trip, it would be perfect if you were here too.

Love and Poetry

Ted’s first letter shows a reticence to pour out his heart, even to his fiancé. In those days this was part of the stoic behaviour expected of men by society in general. Yet the simplicity of his statements are heart-warming. Often we think that showing our love needs to be passionate, poetic, flowery. But the most meaningful words of love are the simplest, like Ted’s.

‘Well Barb that’s all at present and I do hope you think of me as much as I do of you. As I said before  I wish you were here with me. I can’t write sentimental letters but I hope you understand just how much I really do miss you. Always before I have been able to ring you up and see you when we were at Narromine. I knew it would not be long before I saw you again, but now it might be years and I’m just beginning to realise this fact. I have a long look at your photo every night before going to bed and think of all the things we will do when we meet again and we shall certainly paint the town red.

Love Ted’

There were no phones, emails, texts or tweets available to Ted and Barbara. Letters were all they had and these letters were treasured. Ted wrote every month over the four years he spent at war and Barbara kept every letter, handing them on to her son John, who in turn treasures them. The letters reveal a softer side to his businessman father and figurehead of Gowings.


The second letter we are sharing was penned in 21 June 1942. Ted’s vulnerability shows through as he warns his ‘Barbara Darling’ to be wary of those Americans because, ‘I don’t trust them with girls…’

With the benefit of hindsight this common Aussie sentiment elicits a chuckle, but for Ted, lonely, in danger and not knowing when he might see Barbara again we can understand his anxiety. Indeed, Ted left Australia as one of 20 young men but returned with only three of his comrades. Ted’s anxiety is equal to his love for Barbara.

Separation can create unease, even with the strongest of bonds. In covid times, separated by borders and illness, we are prey to misgivings, at the mercy of our worst imaginings. It’s times like these we need to reach out to a friend or loved one with reassuring words of love, as Ted does.

‘I am writing this letter hoping that it reaches you before the first anniversary of our engagement. One whole year during which time we haven’t seen each other, still I am very glad that we did announce our engagement and have never for one single instant regretted it. I hope that you feel the same way about it because I love you very much. It sounds very silly and formal putting it down on paper like this doesn’t it, if only we could meet each other for a while and celebrate our anniversary together we would then have something fresh to remember each other by. Still one never knows, I might get a posting home after leaving here, not much chance but I have my fingers crossed.’

Ted’s comment that he is ‘very glad’ they announced their engagement reflects the wartime understanding that either of them could be killed. Sadly, war does not halt for love, despite love being the only thing that will ever stop war.

A Happy Ending

Ted’s story had a happy ending. Both he and Barbara returned safely, married, and had a sweet little boy they called John.

John Gowing as a child
A little boy called John

We here at Coastbeat, a Gowings company, would like to wish all our readers love on Valentine’s Day and share with you a short poem.

Love Happens

Love happens when you least expect it

You step from the kerb unheeding

Sure of your way home to familiar ennui

And find instead

That you are in the line of love


Visit us at Coffs Central for Valentine’s Day and claim your own love letter from our retailers, to give to your beloved.

Have you got a love letter to share? We’d love to hear from you.