Ian Banks


My letter is largely fiction but partly inspired by a collection of old photographs of my Grandfather Jim Banks who as a young (unmarried) man fought in WWI for first the Lancashire Pals and then the Durham Light Infantry (he was moved after the former was decimated). He was injured on the battlefield with a shell explosion but happily was carried from no mans land on the back of one of his pals. He survived and lived to 65 still carrying the shrapnel from that day. I never got to meet him as sadly he died just before my parents married in the 1950's, but so close to the actual day they had to return his hired Moss Bros wedding suit unused. His wife (my grandmother) Beatrice adored him and kept all of his old army (and brass band) photographs and indeed nearly everyone of the group shots is ruined with her scribed 'X' over his head! I have them to this day along with his war medals and pocket watch for 50 years work service. They remain in that same old assortment of biscuit tins I mention in the letter.

Tip: Click on the polaroid to view the photography full size

Ian Banks


Dear Jim,

I hope this, my first letter finds you well and that these slowly passing first days have not made you forget your poor old wife just yet? I am missing you so very much it hurts.

Since you left, I have so often wished I could turn back the clock to the day you boarded that crowded troop train. I wish I could make you hear the words I shouted out to you as the train departed from the crowded chaos of the platform. I wish I could turn back the clocks to whisper in your ear again “I love you Jim”, but to do that I would need to be like the time traveler in that strange old novel you loved so much about the time machine. But anyway, I have said it now and as long as you are reading this finally, then all is well at last.

That final scene of you waving goodbye with a radiant smile (but I hope a little tear?) remains etched in my minds-eye. It is a vision preserved as a moment in time forever, and burns as brightly today as it ever did on that platform back then. Despite everything, yours was a face full of hope that day, and this thought comforts me always. It keeps me content that I will be seeing you walk up our back lane again one day soon. I am confident of that, if nothing else in the world my love.

Silly me, I write only of my lovely mental pictures, but of course we now have developed those real photographs of you finally back. In some you sit alone or stand aloof in your brand new uniform, looking just like your father as a young man I am told. In most though, you are seated amongst your happy comrades and mischievous old pals. I hope they have not split you all up too much.

The photographs are now stored for safe-keeping in an assortment of your mother’s old biscuit tins kept under her bed. It will amuse you to know that in all of the group photographs at least, she has scribed a small neat ‘X’ mark lightly in ink, hanging just above your head like a saintly mark. Your mother is so very proud of you she put them there for posterity she says. Just in case your family and friends might one day forget who you are.

As if that could ever happen my love!

Come home safely soon.

Beatrice x
Your loving wife

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