Snettisham man Peter Barker admits he was delighted with the response to last week’s launch of a book of love letters between his parents, written while his father was serving during World War Two.
The book launch for My Dear Bessie attracted a sell-out audience at Foyles in London, where Peter, elder brother Bernard and editor Simon Garfield all spoke about the letters, which were written between 1943 and 1946.
Readings of the letters by Louise Brealey (Sherlock) and Bryan Dick (Wolf Hall) proved very moving and some of the audience were in tears.
Chris Barker was a 29-year-old who was serving as a signalman in North Africa when he decided to brighten the long days of war by writing to old friends.
One of these was Bessie Moore, a 30-year-old former work colleague at the Post Office, and through their hundreds of letters they went from platonic friendship to wedded bliss.
The intimate love letters include a five-week period when Chris was a prisoner of war in Greece.
The letters were given to his eldest son Bernard in a cachet when Chris reached his nineties, with the instruction they should never be read while he was still alive.
Following his death in 2007 at the age of 93, Peter and Bernard waited until the following year to open the cachet and were so moved by the letters that they decided they deserved a wider audience.
They sent them to the National Observatory at Sussex University and within a week they were spotted by best-selling author Garfield, which led to some of them being included in his book To The Letter.
Written word became spoken word when they were then brought to life on stage by the likes of Brearley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kerry Fox, Lisa Dwan and David Nicholls in Letters Live.
The letters received rave reviews and led to Cumbernatch reading one at last year’s Hay-on-Wye literary festival.
After such a good response, it was decided to publish My Dear Bessie and word quickly spread about the book with one person travelling from Belgium especially to attend last week’s launch.
The BBC have commissioned a play for Radio 4, based on the letters, while they will feature in the Weekend Telegraph and on BBC TV on Valentines Day on Saturday.
London-born Peter, who moved to Norfolk in 2000 and set up a new child contact centre in Lynn two years ago, said: “I am not at all surprised that there has been such a good reaction to the letters.
“The letters were wonderfully written and many are passionate. Some might say they should remain private, but we feel they display the very powerful feelings my parents had for each other and deserve to be published.
“My father instructed my brother that they mustn’t be read until he had died, and I am sure he wouldn’t have expected them to lead to this, but he must have thought they were of real interest otherwise why pass them on to Bernard.”
Extracts from letters:
March 19, 1944
Four letters in four days – and really wanting to write four each day.
Stupid and silly, but since my thoughts are around you and I am pulsating still, I am going to follow Oscar Wilde’s advice, “The only way to resist temptation is to succumb to it”.
Really, you should reply to me that I am an ass, and that you have been kind enough to burn my words before I want to eat them.
“But I am sure that you won’t, and that almost for certain you are down with the same ailment, wanting me the same as I want you.
September 28, 1944
In the last six months (and it is not much more than that since we turned to each other in gladness and relief, for comfort and security), we have seen much more of what is in the other’s mind.
I see you more clearly. I love you more dearly.
Before I left the desert, I had to destroy most of your letters. I kept a few, I felt that I must because you said so much to me in them.
December 11, 1944
My Dearest Angel Chris
The shame in my heart for the burning of those letters is burning a hundredfold.
I have been in such a state over what is happening in Greece.
But it has come back in a rush, your words: “I will love you though you never believe I love”, “I will love you whatever blows you deal me”.
Oh gosh! That got me badly, very badly, went much deeper than any censure.
What I feel for you is love. This is not settling down, getting married and having children, it’s much more.