Mystery of unsent Orkney WW1 letter solved

The letter was never delivered
The letter was never delivered
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A mystery letter penned by a WWI sailor stationed in Orkney – known as “Your Bluejacket Boy” - has finally found its rightful home almost a century after being first written.

Amateur detectives at Orkney Library and Archives tracked down the family of the letter’s author who had only signed it by his nickname.

Picture: submitted

Picture: submitted

The letter was written in 1916 by a young sailor to his family in Llanelli, Wales.

It was sealed and bearing a stamp when it was found 64 years later behind a fireplace in Bridge Street, Kirkwall.

It was addressed to a John Phillips in Carmathenshire, South Wales, but he never received it.

The family who uncovered the letter had no idea how it ended up in their chimney.

Picture: submitted

Picture: submitted

It was handed to the Orkney Library and Archive last year and staff decided to put an appeal on their Archive blog – ‘Get Dusty’ - asking for any leads to help identify the man or his family.

And this week they struck gold.

Assistant archivist Lucy Gibbon said: “We posted it last year and asked our followers to help us find out the author’s real name and if he had any descendants.

“We meantime also worked with the local paper in Llanelli to get the story out that way too.

“We wanted to show the process of researching an enquiry to the public and of course wanted to see if we could get this letter to his (John Phillips) family.

“It certainly captured the imagination of our blog followers and we were given several leads.”

She added: “But things really started to roll when one of our blog followers - known as ‘Janealogy’ on the blog - spotted a marriage between David Phillips and Catherine Johnston, quite by chance, on a ‘Johnston’ family website originating in Canada.

“‘Janeology’ contacted the website author and told him to look at our ‘Blue Jacket Boy’ post.

“The gentleman from Canada, Bruce, looked up our post last week.

“He alerted a distant family member in Wales, Mary Hodge - who has turned out indeed to be our Blue Jacket Boy’s granddaughter.”

‘Blue Jacket Boy’ was David John Phillips - or Dai -from Llanelli in Wales.

He had been stationed in Orkney during World War One and married Orcadian Catherine Isabella Coghill Johnston on April 11 in 1919, in Kirkwall.

Catherine’s family lived in Bridge Street.

Return to Wales

They moved back to Llanelli after the war, opening a greengrocers shop and starting a family.

They lived there as an extended family with their grandchildren until their deaths.

Dai’s granddaughter, Mary Hodge, now lives in Chester. She is planning to visit Orkney in the near future to pick up the letter from her grandfather in person.

Mary said: “I’ve got shared ancestry with my friend in Canada – a four times grandparent from Flotta in Orkney.

“He’s interested in his family history so he keeps an eye on the Orkney Library and Archive’s blog.

“He called me about a week ago and said, ‘I think you’d better get in touch with the archive folk at the Orkney Library – because I’ve seen a post on their blog and I’m sure it’s about your grandfather.

“I looked at the blog and knew instantly it was my grandfather – I recognised the name and address on the picture of the letter.

“It was a mixture of high emotion, shock and disbelief.

“I’m not really a big user of the web, but thank goodness for the internet – this letter may never have come home without it.

She added: “I don’t live in Llanelli anymore so I’d totally missed the articles in the local paper.

“I’m just so grateful to the Archive for their blog, to the lady who first handed in the letter, and to everyone who posted comments and tried to help track my family down.

“It’s overwhelming to have this letter, a little piece of my beloved grandfather, after all this time.”