Project Description


Married and father of a baby daughter, Private Thomas Hughes had boarded a troopship in September 1914 to go to fight with the Third Army Corp Expeditionary Force against the Germans . An extravagant whim encouraged him to write a message to his young wife and place it in a green ginger beer bottle with a screw-on rubber stopper bottle and throw it into the sea.

The message said: “Dear Wife, I am writing this note on this boat and dropping it into the sea just to see if it will reach you. . . . . Ta ta sweet, for the present. Your Hubby.”

He also wrote a covering letter: “Sir or madam, youth or maid, would you kindly forward the enclosed letter and earn the blessing of a poor British soldier on his way to the front this ninth day of September,1914. Signed Private T. Hughes, Second Durham Light Infantry.”

Thomas died in battle two days later, aged 26. His final words written 85 years previous remained unread until in 1999 when fisherman Steve Gowan scooped the bottle up in his net as he fished for cod in the Thames Estuary off the Essex coast. The note was still dry and intact.

Private Hughes’s wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1979, 20 years before the bottle was found. Their now 86-year-old daughter, Emily, pleaded with Mr. Gowan to return the letter to her. She was only two years old when she last saw her father as he headed off to battle. Her reasoning was: “It is too late for the letter to be opened by the person it was intended for, but the next best thing is for it to be handed to his daughter. It’s incredible that something lying on the seabed for almost a century has survived intact for so long”.

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