CHILLING letters from a soldier fighting in the trenches of the First World War to his family were found in a junk shop.

Winsford John Malam embarked on a labour of love after discovering them and managed to trace his relatives.

“I stumbled across a paper bag filled with old letters,” said John. “I could see they were a soldier’s letters but I had no idea how involved I was going to become with the man who had written them from the trenches of the Great War.”

Written by Corporal Fred Horsnell of the East Surrey Regiment, the bag contained every letter and postcard he sent home to his mum and dad in the Essex village of Hatfield Peverel.

“I’ve often wondered how his mother felt in 1915 when she received a postcard with the chilling words ‘We are now on our way’,” said John. “That’s where Fred’s story begins and his mother must have been on a rollercoaster of emotions as she had already lost one son, Fred’s older brother, Charles, who died in November 1914.”

Amongst Fred’s letters, John found several which referred to Charles, one of which said: “You can imagine his grave as in a churchyard in England. Wherever possible the graves are kept up quite nicely, that’s one comfort for the parents to know.”

After the war, Charles’s grave was nowhere to be found and today he is one of the 56,000 names carved on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres for men who died but whose bodies were never found.

“Fred’s letters are like the millions of others sent by British Tommies,” said John. “He asks about the family at home, grumbles about the weather, says he’d like some clean vests, and in one letter, almost as an afterthought, he tells his mum and dad that he’s been awarded the Military Medal, which I now know was for conspicuous service in the Battle of the Somme. He knew he had to be careful with what he wrote, or the letter wouldn’t get passed the Army censor.”

“As the war progressed, Fred’s tone hardened,” said John. "In one letter, written from the heart, he criticises the Army doctors who accused him of shirking his duty – and that was after he’d been shot in the ankle! How would any parent feel to receive that?”

After tracing members of the family, John was sent photos of Fred in uniform.

John said: "I used the pictures to create an exact replica of Fred’s uniform, complete with brass wound stripe on the left cuff, which was as good as a badge of honour, showing you’d been injured in the line of duty.”

John has published the letters online, along with the story of their discovery and what happened to Fred after the war.

He added:“As soon as I published the website it was only a matter of time before the wider family found it and got in touch, some of whom now live in South Africa.”

Visit to read more about soldiers' trench letters.