Private Fred Minns sent a letter to Eva Willingham in 1940,
where it was lost for 80 years



Eighty years ago, a group of personal letters were written by men of the 1st Suffolk Regiment, serving with the British Expeditionary Force in France between 25th and 27th May 1940, during the British Army’s retreat towards Dunkirk.

For some, it would be the last message they sent to family and friends; sadly not all of the letters made it home to their loved ones.

They went astray in France and were discovered in an abandoned post van by a German officer. They spent the next three decades in the officer’s loft, before he handed them in at the British Embassy in Bonn in 1969.


The letters were subsequently stored at the Suffolk Archives.

There are 41 undelivered letters in the archives, all of them written by young men full of fear, hope and love.

Some of the soldiers would make it to Dunkirk to be evacuated back home, but many sadly would not.


One of those letters was from Fred Minns to his girlfriend Eva Willingham
Eva lived at Bolberry, High St, Bures

Fred Minns was born in 1911 in Gedding, Bury St Edmunds, he was a regular soldier who had previously served with the Suffolk
Regiment in India. He wrote a letter to Eva, full of love and longing for home.

"It would have been a beautiful day for one of our jaunts, you know right out along the country lane, which must look lovely and green and full of flowers, one never appreciates them so much as when one is torn from them"

Fred survived the evacuation of Dunkirk, but unfortunately died in Somerset on September 1940 aged 29 years,
when the motor cycle he was riding was in a collision with an Army Lorry

These two newspaper reports, confirms Fred was on official duty as a Despatch Rider.

Western Daily Press
1st October 1904



This fatal accident was only two months before Eva lost her parents in the Nayland Rd tragedy
Eva must have been devastated by the loss of five loved ones.


Pvt Frederick Louis Minns
BIRTH 1911
DEATH 29 Sep 1940
St Andrew Churchyard
Great Cornard, Suffolk

Service No: 5824862.



Roll of Honour - Gt. Cornard

Private Frederick Louis Minns

5824862 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment

Frederick Minns was born in Gedding, Suffolk in 1911. He was the son of Isaac and Violet Minns. He had 2 brothers: Cecil and Dennis, and 3 sisters: Winifred, Dorothy and Freda. His father Isaac was employed as a farm labourer and the family moved from Gedding to Spout Lane, Little Cornard and later to 4 Prospect Hill, Great Cornard.

Frederick was a regular soldier and served with the Suffolk Regiment in India. The photograph shows him in India in 1933. The Battalion returned home and at the outbreak of war was sent over to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Frederick survived the evacuation of Dunkirk at the end of May 1940. In September he was serving as a Despatch rider when he was killed in a road accident in Cheddar, Somerset.

Frederick died aged 29 on 27th September 1940. He lies buried in Great Cornard Churchyard.


Both his brothers served during the war. Cecil enlisted in January 1940 and served with the York and Lancaster Regiment, he sent a letter home, which appeared on the front page of the Suffolk and Essex Free Press on 5th November 1944. He had been in India for 2 years before being sent to fight behind the Japanese lines in March 1944. His brother Dennis served with the Royal Air Force in South Rhodesia.

©Shirley Smith - Sudbury & District Royal British Legion - November 2008

Roll of Honour inside Gt Cornard Parish Church

Unfortunately, the Suffolk Regiment has refused permission for me to publish Fred`s Letter.
as I would be infringing their copyright.
I maintain they were not the legal owners, but the surving members of the Minns or Willingham family.

I subsequently ordered a copy of the letter from the Suffolk Records Office
This time I was informed the order had been cancelled as I would be breaking their T&Cs by showing the letter to a third party.
Invoking these T&C`s, presumably mean`t I couldn't even show my wife - absolutely ridiculous ?

However, I was fortunate enough to trace the only surviving member of the Nayland Rd, Willingham family
The Suffolk Regiment and the Bury Record office were totally unaware of this relative
Either one of them, subsequently plagiarised my work to obtain her details

This was the daughter of Doris Willingham, one of the five children who survived the bomb damage, who has since received Fred`s letter
I have protected her anominity by not releasing her name

Published 11/03/2021
Letter image and text reproduced courtesy of Bury RO and Western Daily Press
Photo of Frederick - Courtesy of Mr. Robin Brown
Sudbury & District Royal British Legion
Gt Cornard Information web site
Research by Alan Beales
update 16/07/2020
update 09/09/2020
updated 28/11/2020
updated 16/01/2023