Before she was Queen and then Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was a young girl nursing wounded soldiers at her family home in Angus. During the First World War, Glamis Castle was used as a military hospital and the young aristocrat became friends with Private James Harding.
Now, a selection of the letters she and the Private exchanged are due to go up for auction on 11 August in London where they are expected to fetch £5,000 to £7,000.
The letters reveal the future queen as a lively, engaging, witty young woman accustomed to playing the card game Hearts with the men to help keep up spirits. One of the six letters, dated 29 November 1916 and signed by the then 16-year-old as ‘Elizabeth Lyon’, displays a reference to the card games she played with Harding and another soldier saying ‘I enjoyed them very much, even tho’ I was treated badly by you and Nix!’
The Queen Mother’s biographer, William Shawcross, claims that Harding and his fellow soldiers used to make sure Elizabeth got terrible cards during games saying ‘There was wild laughter when she got the Queen of Spades time after time – and she discovered that they had been passing it under the table to give to her’
A second letter, dated 22 December 1916, included a poem about the card tricks:
I sometimes go into the Ward
And play a game or two
And if I get the Queen of Spades
T’is only due to you
Are you not ashamed and sorry
That cheating should go on?
In a third letter, dated nearly two years later on 2 October 1918, Elizabeth wrote: ‘I am going to stay with my sister near Musselburgh next Tuesday and shall be arriving at [Edinburgh] Waverley Station at 4.49. I should be so pleased to see you for a few minutes if you could come… it would be rather nice if I brought a pack of cards and we could play Hearts on the platform!’
A fourth letter aimed to arrange a meeting with Harding and a fifth letter, dated 13 September 1919, expressed Elizabeth’s concern about Harding’s difficulty in finding a job following the end of the war. She wrote ‘It seems to be very difficult now… I wonder what sort of a job you want? I might by chance hear of one that you’d like, though you’d probably want to be in Edinburgh… I do hope something will turn up’
A follow-up letter to Harding three months later expressed her pleasure at learning Harding had secured a position with the young future royal writing: ‘I can’t tell you how pleased I am to hear the good news!’
Two years after the final letter Elizabeth met the (then) Prince Albert, Duke of York, whom she married in 1923.
Commenting on the auction, Dreweatts and Bloomsbury Autographs and Memorabilia specialist, Valentina Borghi said: ‘Letters written by the Queen Mother do not appear frequently on the current market and they are very sought after by collectors of Royal autographs and memorabilia.