Brendan and Tracy Cox with kids Malachy 13, Patrick 16, Sophie 10 reading letters sent during his time serving in the army. Picture: Peter Wallis
Brendan and Tracy Cox with kids Malachy 13, Patrick 16, Sophie 10 reading letters sent during his time serving in the army. Picture: Peter Wallis

Children’s heartbreaking letters to dads at war

LETTERS from loved ones are treasured possessions for a soldier during war. Even today Veterans say they can still remember feeling "incredible emotion" when opening an envelope filled with news from home.

For ANZAC Day, The Courier-Mail spoke with families supported by Legacy - a charity providing support to families suffering after the injury or death of family member during or after their defence force service - who shared their precious letters and cards written during war.

These letters and cards, whether it be from a son to his father, sent home for Mother's Day or sent in a care package with a bunch of scratchies, are the treasured belongings for families - many of who have lost their loved ones.

 

A letter to Brendan Cox from his son Patrick while he was serving in Afghanistan. Pic: Peter Wallis
A letter to Brendan Cox from his son Patrick while he was serving in Afghanistan. Pic: Peter Wallis

 

Scribbling pen to paper soon became typing and emailing and ultimately Skyping, the ways of communicating during war changed tremendously over time, but ex-soldier Brendan Cox said nothing could compare to the feeling of receiving a letter.

"The letters were far more private, a lot more delayed, but I can still feel the emotion of receiving a letter," he said.

"They were always reminders that people did love you back home, and they were thinking of you and your welfare."

Mr Cox, who is now the chief executive officer of Brisbane Legacy, joined the army straight from school after following in footsteps of his two brothers - he served in Bosnia, Timor and in Afghanistan.

He recalled the letters he would receive from his father, who has since passed away, and said it was "heartwarming" to read about normal life while dealing with the horrors faced in Bosnia in the 90s.

"It became a reaffirmation of why you were doing what you were doing, and it was to achieve the normal in many respects," he said.

"Bosnia was a really confronting place and it was abnormal, so to hear normal, as mundane as it was, created a great nurturing feeling that made me think this is why I'm here, to contain this and hopefully bring some relief to the people of this country, but also hope and pray that this environment never, never comes to other places of the world including our own country."

 

A letter Brendan Cox received from his father. Picture: Supplied
A letter Brendan Cox received from his father. Picture: Supplied

He said communication changed enormously during his time in the army, in Bosnia he could call his wife Tracy once a fortnight in a bombed-out shoe factory with "three burly Welshman" listening in, but by the time he was sent to Afghanistan he could see his two kids through Skype, although it was not always reliable.

"Modern technology while as wonderful as it is does create a new element of expectation I suppose, it creates new challenges," he said.

"I was so excited, you can imagine seeing the faces of your children and wife but that was part of the challenge, when you wrote a letter and communicated in the letter, you could send it and know someone would get it, when you had the access to technology that may create the expectation that you are going to ring at the certain point in time."

 

A letter Brendan Cox received from his son Patrick. Picture: Peter Wallis
A letter Brendan Cox received from his son Patrick. Picture: Peter Wallis

Mr Cox said he would often miss his welfare calls due to combat deaths requiring the communications to shut down until the next of kin was advised.

"Quite often miss my welfare call and that would hurt, not because of my selfish want, but because I knew there was people on the other end who were expecting it, there were young kids expecting it, and of course you do think of the worst," he said.

Wanda Sprenger, a mum of two, felt the same difficulties of Skype while trying to contact her late husband Paul who served in Iraq.

"When he was in Iraq I would still send care packages every month with bits of pieces, because the military let you send up to 2kgs for free so you can pack up a box of chocolate tim tams, you've got to stick to all the rules but we could pack in red snacks and all the treats from home and letters and send him photos that he could put up in his bunk area," she said.

"We used to try and video chat or Skype once a week, but sometimes the base would be in communication blackout so we would stay up until late and find out that we couldn't talk that night."

Over the years, she has kept cards and letters sent in care packages, and has dug some of the memories out for ANZAC Day.

 

Wanda Sprenger with her late husband Paul and kids Dominic and Sarah. Picture: Supplied
Wanda Sprenger with her late husband Paul and kids Dominic and Sarah. Picture: Supplied

"Before he left I packed up a whole stack of cards with scratchies that gave him something to do on his birthday and a little love letter inside," she said.

 

A birthday letter to Paul Sprenger from his wife Wanda. Picture: Supplied
A birthday letter to Paul Sprenger from his wife Wanda. Picture: Supplied

 

ANZAC Day has also brought back memories for Beverly Summers, who kept every single letter she wrote and received from her husband who served in the Vietnam War.

 

All of the letters Beverly Summers has kept. Picture: Supplied.
All of the letters Beverly Summers has kept. Picture: Supplied.

 

She shared a private passage her husband wrote to her, wishing her a happy anniversary one year after their wedding.

 

A letter to Beverly Summers from her husband serving in the Vietnam War. Picture: Supplied.
A letter to Beverly Summers from her husband serving in the Vietnam War. Picture: Supplied.

Letters, in Mr Cox's opinion, were the most reliable, albeit slower, form of communicating more intimately - but said it was "always a surprise" inside the letter, and sometimes it could be heartbreaking.

Mum of two Rebecca Beckwith holds onto one letter dearly, her husband Pete who served in the Navy was diagnosed with a brain tumour and passed away in 2007 at only 29-years-old.

In his final days, Pete organised for the chaplain to scribe a letter from him to his wife.

Rebecca Beckwith with her kids Wil and Ella. Picture: Supplied.
Rebecca Beckwith with her kids Wil and Ella. Picture: Supplied.

"It was given to me in a sealed envelope to read after he'd passed away, so I took it home and left it there and he passed away, I guess I got home at about midnight and I poured a glass of wine and I read the letter," Ms Beckwith said.

"This time of year really brings it all back."

Ms Beckwith's son William will be marching in Canberra today while proudly wearing his father's medals, he too wishes to join the navy like this dad.



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