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Valentines Day – Love letters from sea

11 February 2021

This year we’re recognising Valentines Day by sharing some moving love letters written by Chatham Division sailor, William Henry Hester, onboard HMS Aboukir – one of the ill-fated Chatham manned ‘Three Cruisers’  from the First World War (the other cruisers were HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy).

Sadly, sailor William Henry Hester lost his life when the Aboukir was torpedoed on 22 September 1914 by a German submarine U-9. Within 90 minutes, the single German submarine with a crew of 29, had sunk all three ships with a combined compliment of 2,250 men onboard. Of these, 1,459 men lost their lives, the majority of which were lost at sea. It was the first significant loss of Royal Navy Ships to a single German submarine.

There were 791 survivors, rescued by a combination of passing Dutch merchant ships and Royal Navy warships. The disaster had a huge impact on Medway families, as many of the sailors who died were Chatham ratings.

We give special thanks to William’s family for allowing us to share such personal stories.

William Henry Hester

William met his wife, Sallie, in Weymouth whilst serving in the Royal Navy and they moved to Chatham when he became based there. They had two children: Albert Henry – born 04/10/1909, and Dorothy Lilian – born 27/09/1911. We believe the reference of Dot in the letters is referring to his grandmother.

Below are some of the original letters transcribed by our Collections Team that William sent to his wife Sally and one letter to his brother, where you can read the loving words he sends to his wife. The original letters are shown in the image gallery below:

2012.0138.11 DOC.1642b
William Henry Hester on HMS Aboukir
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Transcribed letters: 

My own darling wife we have just got the news that we are at war with Germany and the last mail leaves this ship for the present at 5.40am we sail at 6am. So I have not got much time Dear to write, do not be afraid Darling that you will not see me again, we shall come back please God, I am not afraid Dear, if the worst comes to the worst we have got a ships Company of men and the most of them are married, but kiss Bert and Babe for me Dear. I know you will look after them, be brave Dear and tell the Kiddies Daddy will soon be back, I shall think of you and pray for you every night, I will write again the first opportunity, good bye and God bless you and the Kiddies from your own loving Harry.


Dear Tom

Just a line, we have the news war is declared with Germany our mail closes at 5.40 am and we sail at 6am I don’t know where we are going, ask Jenny if she will go up and see Sallie tell her to tell her I shall be alright only I know she will cry her eyes out, I cannot write much Tom but remember me to Jenny and the Kiddies and God bless you all, I may not see you again Tom so I must wish good bye from your ever loving brother Harry.


My Dear S

Just a line in answer to yours which I suppose you wrote on Saturday. I am sorry you have not received letters I think it is a shame to keep them back so long, I am not allowed to tell you where we are, though there are a good many in Gillingham who could, Tom will know, I am surprised to hear that neither of them have been round to see you, but never mind Dear this won’t last forever, I am pleased to hear that they never forced you to Billet any Soldiers, you have enough to do now, I have thought once or twice there may be a chance of coming up to see you, but up to now it has proved a slip, I am very pleased to hear that you are keeping well and that Bert and Dot are getting on so nicely, I shall be pleased to see them also yourself, the time hangs very heavy, it will be much worse when the cold weather sets in, I am glad to hear that Mrs A’s three sons are alright I must now close Dear with fond love xxxxxxx from your ever Loving Husband Harry.

xxxxxxxxxxxx for the Kiddies


My Darling Sallie

Just a few lines to you hoping they will find you and the Kiddies quite well, I am keeping very well, you know where I am ^(my address as usual), please send me a few postcards and 1/2p stamps also would like paper  when you write, am sending you ^on some money, you will understand, I wrote a postcard the other day, you may not get it, do not worry to much, I think I will have a good try to learn the Piano when I settle down again, hope Dent and Dale’s colds are better, remember me to all when you write, hope you are not lonely, Kiss the Kiddies for me we are having lovely weather, I wrote to Bessie the other day, I must now close with fond love xxxxxxx for you and the Kiddies from your Loving Husband Harry


Throughout lockdown, we have been kept away from our loved ones for a long period of time and we have adjusted to communicating in different ways. The days of writing letters seem long gone, instead we can regularly log into a device to see the faces of our families on a screen or pick up the phone to hear familiar voices. We don’t have the anticipation of waiting for the postman or longing for a letter to drop through the letterbox.

But there is something that feels much more personal in a letter, so if this blog post has inspired you to put pen to paper, why not surprise a relative with a letter or card to surprise them and show your appreciation?

Did you know that you can explore a variety of our collection items online? Visit our Collections page to discover some of the amazing objects at the Dockyard.

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