The now-renowned First World War boy-soldier of Wolverton, Private Albert French (1899-1916), had enlisted with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) in October 1915 and started training with the 18th Battalion, first in Romford, then Aldershot. Albert wrote home regularly throughout his short nine months in the army, his letters being generally cheerful and optimistic.
After Albert’s letters were discovered (they were published 1978) Roger Kitchen conducted interviews with his family and many others in the area who remembered the Great War period in order to piece together Albert’s story. Addressed to his sister May, the letters were always signed off ‘Your Loving Brother Albert’ – the eponymous title of the ensuing book, play, and CD ROM. They were a direct inspiration for the songs composed for Roy Nevitt’s musical documentary drama which has now been staged many times – the latest in 2014 at Radcliffe School.
One letter to May mentioned his meeting with Violet Cox during his leave…
Of course I enjoyed my week’s furlough, especially with Violet on Saturday, and Sunday...
Perhaps I shall get another leave, if we shift a bit nearer home. I expect Aunt has gone down to Mrs Cox, to see if there is any news from Violet. I might as well tell you that I rather took a liking to Violet while I was home and I hope she writes to me. My mate did not think much of my photo, I wonder what Violet will think of it? My mate said I looked about 14, and not much like a soldier. I shan't be a soldier for another 2 or 3 years, I am only training for one yet awhile…
I am writing to Violet today.
The song skilfully weaves in this detail and its yearning, imagining Violet’s response to their meeting, her dreams of what might be. It is a powerful indictment on the wastage of the Great War.
A special memorial to Private Albert French is located at MK Rose in Campbell Park, Central Milton Keynes
Albert’s images, original letters and the subsequent drama script are in LAMK’s archive
The transcripts of the letters can be found at: www.mkheritage.co.uk/la/
The song is featured on the Living Archive Band’s album All That’s Changed Vol 1 (LAMK)