Confidential letters and valedictions

A thousand years of history compressed in one place in London, in a building with millions of letters, reports and pictures. Fragments of life ready to be discovered in old and smelly documents available for free to the public.

The National Archives of the United Kingdom has more than 32 million descriptions of records and more than 2500 archives across the country. With over 9 million records available for download we started the physical research with 20 folders.

Our aim was to find relevant stories about our named soldiers and about the Middlesex Regiment. We started with confidence and during those eight hours we realised that we got carried away.

I read pieces of people’s lives and I felt that I want to know more and more about them. The World War I dragged me into its story and soon I found myself  living in a time like that. I quickly shook my head and started to read again. The Under Secretary of State gave reports every few months to his superiors about things being an issue at the time such as soldiers reading Black Power Literature and others greeting one another when passing in Germany with the clenched fist salute. It was confidential information at the time that now gives me the feeling of power and put in my head the idea that this information can change something. Information it is power after all.

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I found curious the old-style formal complimentary close of most of the letters founded. Almost all of them were confidential at the time and they were written by commandants giving reports or answering to queries and questions.

The 18th c. Georgian English valedictions such as “With Kind regards, Believe me, yours sincerely”, “I am, Sir, your obedient Servant” or ‘I have the Honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant’ were used in all the letters. Discreet and political correspondence tends to be very formal indeed and it was considered good manners to conclude letters to officials with the full valediction until the early 1980s. They were used when addressing certain dignified personages and today were eventually carved to the familiar form we see at present: “I remain, Sir, your faithful and obedient servant” / “Yours Faithfully“.

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Believe me” is still correct and used when formality is to be expressed in the end of a letter.

Valedictions immediately were preceded by the signature in all correspondence on the most of them hand written signature. Some of the letters were signed with the full name and others just with initials; on the subject of signatures, the higher the rank, the shorter the name.

Eight hours went quick and I soon realised that I went so deep living in the War War I and I discovered things and feelings that people had whilst at war. You cannot read about confidential information and not wonder in your mind and think deep and deeper about the different meaning of every word or sentence.

Everything had an order, mistakes were reported, soldiers were carefully observed and disciplinary aspects took place. I am sure that there is a lot more than this to be discovered and analysed. On the other side , as Napoleon Bonaparte said, history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.