Daniel Radcliffe uncovers World War 1 love story



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I'm trying to work out who this one's from.

Because there's a lot of mentions of Ernie in it, and this is sent from Banbridge, September 2nd, 1914.

"My dear Ernie, my heart was sore, when I had to come into the house.

But some day we will give them all a good day, when we are getting married, won't we, love?

From your ever loving sweetheart."

Oh, hold on.



Someone was very keen on Ernie!

That's a great letter.

I mean, it's just willing this to come true by writing it.

So this is another letter.

From Jeannie, again.

"No one can say to you, Ernie, that you are going with a flirt."

She's very funny, Jeannie.

"No one can say to you, Ernie, that you are going with a flirt.

I love you, Ernie, with all my heart, and will till death do us part."

Still just. . . so in love with him.

I want to find out. . .

I want to find out what happened to all the brothers, if possible.

And. . . I'd like to know more about him and Jeannie because they seem sweet.

And I wonder if they ever got to marry.

I really hope they did, based on those letters.

To find out what more the letters can reveal, Daniel's meeting First World War historian Jessica Meyer.

We've got the letter from Ernest's mother, your great-great-grandmother, which is what makes this collection really quite special.

And then the other thing we have which is really unusual.

These letters from Jeannie.


Which are lovely.

I love them.

They're so passionate!

They really are.

They're just like old. . . what I imagine love letters to be.

"I love you all the time.

I love you, Ernie, with a love that will never die."

So even in the midst of war, life goes on.


Love carries on. . .


In very difficult circumstances.

It is amazing.

This is the last dated letter that we have, the latest date that we have a letter from.

Oh, wow, OK.

28th of May, 1916.

"My dear mother and father, I am writing you these few lines hoping they will find you all well.

From your loving son, Ernie, to my dear mother and father.


"And tell Flo, I don't forget, tell Flo I don't forget about the ha'penny I owe her."

But then, it's great that he's still, like, remembering a debt to his youngest sister.

He's written so regularly fornearly two years.

And then they just stop.

And then they just stop.

Oh, dear.

That doesn't bode well.


Back in his family's hometown of Banbridge, Daniel hopes he can discover what happened to his great-great-uncle Ernie and his brothers.

Oh, oh, OK, This is a roll of honour.

"To the glory of God and in proud and loving memory of all the following men from this parish, who in response to the call of their king and country laid down their lives in the Great War 1914-1919."

Yeah. . .

There's Ernie.

Ernest McDowell.

So none of the other brothers are there, though.

So I assume that means Ernie was the only one who, who got killed.

To find out more about Ernie and his brothers, Daniel is meeting genealogist Fiona Fitzsimons.

I've learned that Ernie did in fact die during the war.

Do you know anything about the circumstances of his death?

This is a letter written by somebody who was there with Ernie, at the moment that he died.

Oh, wow.

And he sent it to your great-great grandmother.

It's very old.


Yeah, it says, "Mrs McDowell, as far as I can tell you the truth about your dear beloved son.

We were just after arriving in the trenches.

And your boy and two more chaps from Belfast, was going into a dugout to take off their packs, when a shell landed, which killed the three of them."

"I'm very sorry to say none of them did live to say a word to anyone."

I thought that maybe he was dying in some big battle, but it was just a random shell.

"I think I'm after telling you the very truth about all now, for which I am only too willing to give any broken-hearted mother.

As I'm. . . as I am the only son myself, and I know the way my own mother do feel.

Yours etc. , James O'Brien."

That's extraordinary.

He definitely seems to want to reassure Elizabeth that Ernie didn't suffer.

Some of the particularly affecting letters that I read were from Ernie's girlfriend, Jeannie.

And I was wondering, you know.

She seemed pretty devoted to Ernie in all those letters.

So do we know anything about what happened to her?

We do.

We found a record of what happened to Jeannie from the parish registers of this church.

"Marriage solemnised at the. . . Church of the Holy Trinity."

Oh, wow, so, yeah, they got married here.


"Ernest McDowell and Jeannie Barlow", is that?

Barlow. Barlow.

And look at the date.

February 19th? 14th. February 14th, oh!

February 14th! Valentine's Day! February 14th, 1915.

So a real sweetheart.

It does make me really happy that they were able to have that year together.

And. . . yeah, were able to just be a young couple for a little while, before he had to go back off.

To have made a World War I film and, you know, played at being a soldier in the trenches, you know, I definitely feel more connected to all those stories.

Now that I've kind of learned what my own family went through.

And suddenly realising why. . . out of all the brothers, Ernie's name was the one that made it down to me, because he was the son that went and didn't come back.

To find Elizabeth's letters to Ernie just give. . . such an insight into what it would have been like to have your children leave for the war.

And just to, just to find out how much. . . love there is in my family.

You know, a lot of very sad things have happened to various parts of my family.

But I can't be sad about it because. . . everyone was really loved, and, ultimately, that means that the time they had on Earth, even if it ended prematurely and sadly, was, you know, was worth having.