Great War Letters of Arthur Powell

  • Reference
      GB 133 POW
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      2 series; 73 items
  • Location
      Collection available at The John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

This collection of letters chronicles Arthur Powell's experiences as a soldier during the First World War, from February 1916, during training with the Manchester Regiment prior to his embarkation for the Western Front, until April 1919, when he was part of the demobilisation process in Salonika.

Powell wrote home to his parents very regularly, every three or four days, except when he was on the march or during periods of 'fatigue' duty which usually meant Lewis Gun training, trench building or drill practice. Otherwise the communication between son and home was frequent and unbroken. Powell describes military life in detail, within the limitations imposed by military censorship. Food was of particular concern to him; the soldier's fare was rudimentary and not always plentiful, and he looked forward to packages and letters from his parents, bringing messages of love, news and home comforts. The letters demonstrate an affectionate, loving bond between son and parents.

Administrative / Biographical History

Arthur Powell (1896-1968) was born and brought up in Manchester. After leaving school at the age of fourteen in 1910, he worked for the British Engine Insurance Company. He enlisted at the age of eighteen with the Manchester Regiment (Manchester Pals) in October 1914, shortly after his eighteenth birthday. He spent the first two years of the war in training camps in Sussex and Essex. He wanted to be part of the Gallipoli Campaign, but was told at the time that he was too young to be sent so far abroad.

Powell first saw active service in August 1916, with the 19th King's Liverpool Regiment, which entered the front line after British forces suffered disastrous losses during the first stages of the Battle of the Somme in July. Powell's unit then became .

Remarkably, Powell survived the war despite having experienced some of the heaviest fighting at the Somme, Ypres and Arras. After being invalided out in August of 1917 with a shrapnel wound to his left shoulder, Powell returned to France at the end of November 1918 on his way to Salonika in Greece, to be part of the demobilisation process for soldiers who had been stationed there since 1915.

Powell finally returned home in May 1919, by which time he has risen to the rank of corporal, a role of which he was evidently proud. There is a photograph of Powell in uniform showing his corporal's stripes, probably taken while he was on leave prior to his transfer to Salonika.

After the war, Powell resumed his work at the offices of British Engine in Manchester and Preston, retiring in 1961. On 3 December 1921 he married Elsie Louisa Dash, daughter of Joseph Dash, an insurance official, at St Thomas's, Werneth in Oldham. They had one daughter, Muriel (b. 1927), and a son, Colin (b. 1932). For many years the family lived in Blackpool. Elsie died in May 1960, while Arthur died in June 1965 of lung cancer and emphysema.


The letters are arranged as a single series in chronological order (POW/1), as they were found when they were donated to the Library. Five undated fragments, which could not be reunited with the letters to which they belonged, have been formed into a second series (POW/2), along with a postcard photograph.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated by Rev. Colin A. Powell, son of Arthur Powell, on 22 December 2014.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The letters remained in the ownership of the Powell family during the twentieth century, passing to Arthur Powell's son, Rev. Colin A. Powell.


No further accruals are expected.


Transcripts of the letters were published in Colin A. Powell (ed.), Great War Letters of Arthur Powell, 1896-1968 ([Manchester:] privately printed, 2014).

Geographical Names