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A love story of romance and tragedy, adventure and opportunity, set just before and during the turmoil of the first world war.




“I cannot think that distance can ever stand between us, when happiness of the highest degree comes to both of us when we are in one another's company."


The Book


Just like other people living their lives and making plans Peter and Kate would never have thought there would be a world war. If this happened to us how would we cope?

A true story based on the discovery in 2006 of letters written a hundred year ago in an ornate wooden box; about two young people who met and fell in love. They swore to be true, but each had dreams they wished to fulfil before settling down.

Kate sailed to New Zealand in February 1912 to work and travel. Peter, an engineer, went into business to manufacture his seed sowing machine in Lutterworth, England. Production had just started when war broke out in August 1914. He joined the Royal Field Artillery and trained as a gunner seeing action in Gallipoli and the Western Front. Kate delayed her return to Britain.

Could they get together again? What happened at Messines?




“Kate Dear you seem to have brought me good luck ever since I have been interested in you.”


The Box

In a cupboard, while clearing my late parent’s house in Edinburgh,
I discovered an ornate wooden box which had belonged to my grandmother, Catherine (Kate) Bell Hay.

The box contained many letters, photographs and other items which she had kept during her time in New Zealand: 1912-1917. Most of these letters were from my grandfather, Peter Hutchinson Wardlaw.

I knew almost nothing about Peter and Kate. They died long before I was born.
Here was a chance in these letters to find out about them.

I was about to unearth a fascinating story set at a time of immense opportunity crushed by savage war





“My one desire in life Kate will be a desire common to both of us."


The Author

Dr Mark Wardlaw

Born in Edinburgh in 1958, Mark Wardlaw was educated at Edinburgh Academy 1967-76 and studied medicine at Dundee University 1976-82.

Initially Mark studied Pathology with a view to being a Forensic Pathologist, but missing patient contact; he decided on General Practice and trained in Manchester.

After working thirty years in the NHS; the last twenty four as a General Practitioner in Birmingham and Liverpool, he retired with his wife Jane to the rugged beauty of north Cornwall in 2012. Here he was able to pursue his interests in history, music and crafts.

It was in Cornwall that his first book, a true story, was written: “Broken by Messines in WW1 - The Grandparents I Never Knew.”


“I am looking forward to the day, if we are both spared, when you shall return and we will face our troubles and pleasures together."


Peter Hutchinson Wardlaw 1911 aged 22

Kate the Nanny

Kate’s ticket to New Zealand

Staff at the Girls’ High School Napier

Corporal Peter Wardlaw’s gun crew & 18 pounder

Kate enjoying horse riding in New Zealand, taken by Will Berry at Koro Koro Wellington

Sergeant Peter Wardlaw 1915

Kate’s passport issued at Government House, Wellington, New Zealand 14 December 1916


'An extraordinary, compelling and candid account of two young people whose lives and love were casualties of the horrors and deprivations of a world at war. Author and biographer Mark Wardlaw has done an exemplary and welcome task of bringing the story of his grandparents into print for the benefit of this and future generations. "Broken by Messines in WW1: The Grandparents I Never Knew" is an exception, outstanding, and intensely personal account that is unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library 20th Century Biography collections in general, and World War I supplemental studies reading lists in particular. Simply stated, "Broken by Messines in WW1: The Grandparents I Never Knew" is one of those rare volumes that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.'
Paul T. Vogel, Mid West Book Review May 2017


Dr Wardlaw decided to write a book about the grandparents he never knew after the discovery of a collection of their letters in his late parents’ home in Leith. The letters had been kept by Catherine Bell Hay, and chronicled her long-distance romance with her future husband Peter Hutchinson Wardlaw, both from Alloa, from their first meeting in 1910 up to 1917. Their relationship was sorely tested, because in 1912 Catherine went to New Zealand to work in a girls’ school and they became engaged while living on separate continents. For the next five years, as the First World War raged, the couple continued to write to each other. Peter fought in the Artillery in Gallipoli and then at the Somme before the fateful Battle of Messines, and we can see from his letters how war was changing him. It’s a moving slice of social and family history, and one which has to be read to the very end.'

Alistair Mabbott, The Herald Scotland (Review)


'The tragic tale of a war-torn Alloa couple has been immortalised in a touching novel written by their grandson. Peter and Kate Wardlaw penned a series of personal letters to each other while they were apart from 1912 right through the Great War. The duo swore to remain true to one another but decided to explore the world before settling down. In their correspondence, they share their hopes and dreams – before the war broke out and dismantled their hopes of a happy ending. They would likely have reunited at some point in 1914, before hostilities broke out in Europe. Though ultimately a sombre tale of a family life during the Great War, Mark was determined to share their lives once he found their letters.' Iain Smith, Alloa Advertiser (Abbreviated Article)


New book tells of tragic love story broken by WWI on Centenary of Battle of Messines

It is said that eternal love will triumph over adversity. But a previously untold story of WWI appears to shatter that ideal. Not long after Mark Wardlaw's parents died in Scotland, he discovered an ornate wooden box in their home that contained a heart breaking family story. The box, which had belonged to his father's mother Catherine "Kate" Bell Hay, contained many letters and photographs from her time in New Zealand: 1912-1917 when she was assistant matron at Napier Girls' High School.


Most of the letters were from his grandfather Peter Hutchinson Wardlaw, whom Mark's father Elliot never met. "Here was a chance in these letters to find out about my grandparents," Wardlaw told the Herald. He'd unearthed a tragic love story broken by the war.


The subsequent book, Broken by Messines in WW1 -The Grandparents I Never Knew has been published to coincide with the centenary of Messines. The family letters tell how Kate sailed from her home in Alloa, Scotland, on the SS Remuera to New Zealand in 1912 to work at Napier Girls' High. Her engineer boyfriend Peter Wardlaw stayed behind to manufacture his seed-sowing machine in Lutterworth, England. But soon after parting, Peter sent her an engagement ring. Her plans to come home and marry him were thwarted by the outbreak of war in August 1914. Article in the New Zealand Herald 7th June 2017. Reporter Kurt Bayer


This is a beautifully, thoughtfully presented story, and a weighty, good quality book. While reading Mark’s grandfather’s letters I was given a glimpse into the lives of Peter and Kate and their families, I cared about what happened to them, which goes to show what an exceptional writer Mark Wardlaw is.

 Looking at the photographs was like glancing through an old family album. Kate’s descriptions of living in New Zealand is an added bonus, seeing as I too came to live in the country. Peter suffered dreadfully at The Somme, as did hundreds and thousands of other men, while fighting a horrific war in horrendous conditions. He had, like many others, been brainwashed by war propaganda, the death toll was staggering. Kate and Peter’s story has long stayed with me after I finished the book. Mark Wardlaw has captured effortlessly a slice of social history, and I highly recommend this fascinating book. Kerin Freeman, Author of ‘The Civilian Bomb Disposing Earl’. Review from New Zealand 9 July 2017.


A poignant story of long courtship, world travel, love and loss culminating in the demise of their marriage due to the effects of WW1 and the Battle of Messines. Mark found the sources for this book in an ornate box in a cupboard when clearing out his Parent's house and discovered the lives of his grandparents, both of whom had died before he was born. It revealed a wealth of letters, keepsakes, nostalgic items and most importantly the story of his Grandparent's lives. The story begins in 1911, and through the courtship of Peter and Kate, we see the world of travel opening up for the first time for women, the world of upward mobility for the lower classes and opportunities to travel overseas, gaining work and opportunities in New Zealand. The World that was shattered with the effects of WW1. We also get to witness the effects of WW1 and how Peter's luck ran out in Messines.  "Peter and Kate's story is a microcosm of how war kills not only people, but love that is said to triumph over all adversity.”…………The book bears witness to the brutal effects which were not just physical of Total War. Review and interview  by Lorna Moloney , Genealogist, Historian, Radio Presenter.  Raidio Corcabaiscinn  Ireland 6 July 2017.
Listen to Lorna's interview with Mark Wardlaw here.


This book is not a Military History book in the usual way. It is neither a book of romance, although it considers two people, meant for each other, but rudely torn apart by the war. It is no feel good story, because the story does not end well. The two lovers are separated until death, although both of them must have remained fond of each other, as proven by all the letters that Kate had kept all those years.

The book is, however, a fresh, different way to describe the Great War and the effects it had on the common man and woman. Wardlaw not only publishes the letters, written by his grandfather, but he also gives a thorough insight to life in the UK, New Zealand and in the British Army during the war. The letters are written between lovers, but it never becomes uneasy, too private, to publish. There were missing letters that fail to give insight into the happenings that must have occurred, but Wardlaw knows how to catch the reader. He knows how to write, and his additional research is very good. It was a pleasure reading this book! Conclusion of  Review by Onno de Meer on Jomini, military historical books and maps. Leusden. Netherlands. 17 August 2017. To read the review in full, click here


I won a copy of this book in a Good reads giveaway. I found the true story of Kate and Peter's lives, told mainly through letters that have survived, to be a very gripping read. On more than one occasion I said to myself just five more minutes of reading but would carry on reading for over an hour. Mark has clearly spent time researching the history of his paternal grandparents life before and during WW1 and also history of that time in general to provide the reader with a better picture of life during that time. I would definitely recommend this book to others. Eleri Jenkins. July 28 2017  Goodreads


Thank you Goodreads for sending me this book. What a great book. I really did enjoy the read. A love story that has taken place during the war and all that this implies, especially due to the long distance between two people. Catherine goes to New Zealand to work in a school and her future husband (they do become engaged despite living in different continents) fights in Gallipoli, the Somme and Messines during WW1. The illustrations throughout the book are great and the photographs bring everyone to life throughout the book and it is easy to imagine real people whilst reading about their amazing, brave lives. There are also illustrations of birth certificates, maps, lists of belongings etc which I found very helpful. The work undertaken to produce this book has obviously been great, and I would encourage anyone who has a chance, to read this book. A sad but compelling read. Sally White. July 30 2017  Goodreads


A book that best fits into the category of genealogical memoir. In doing his research, Dr. Wardlaw has tried to open up the secrets behind the distant love affair of his grandfather and grandmother, who were engaged for over five years, living on different continents and able to only communicate by letters that often took several months to arrive. It is a story of love that nearly was unrequited and it ends as a tragedy in many ways. Many of the letters are unfortunately stilted in their writing. This is due to the period of history in which many of the things we talk about openly today were not discussed. In addition, Peter's military service during the war and the rigid censorship of letters from battle field areas meant that often soldiers could only talk about the most mundane of circumstances. For me the very best part of the book is in very long letter from Kate to Peter which describes her trip to New Zealand's tourist centers while fiance Peter is off on the Galipoli peninsula fighting the Turks. I believe the Dr. is right in saying that the eventual outcome of the marriage and some of the mysteries of his own father's upbringing are still not completely resolved by this research. Those readers in the Wardlaw clan who read this will gain insight into the history and relationships which only letters can open for us in the realm of history. Richard Jr. August 18 2017 Goodreads


At first I found the brackets with PC1A, etc a bit confusing as I didn't realise what they represented. Myself personally would of like them to have been smaller and maybe with a small footnote at the bottom of the page highlighted by perhaps an asterix for what they represented. This however was a small thing and doesn't take away anything from the book, I enjoyed reading the story of Kate and Peter even if it was one-sided. I was hoping for a lovely love story from across the seas that would withstand anything but sadly this was not the case. I wonder if Kate could of seen into the future whether she would of ever travelled back to England and to her loving Peter. How wonderful it would also be for Mark Wardlaw to be able to go to New Zealand and follow the route that Kate done over Christmas 1915 and visit all the places she mentioned in her journey log to see if they are still there.

A lovely story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Rachel. August 9 2017  Goodreads


I was lucky enough to win this book on a Goodreads giveaway and when I first started reading it, I was unsure as to whether or not I was going to enjoy it. I was not sure how interesting the lives of two strangers would be to me. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The story of Peter and Kate Wardlaw told predominately though Peter’s letters really brings alive what life must have been like for young couples torn apart by war.I am glad that Mark Wardlaw chose to share his Grandparents letters with us. The book has a few minor faults, a date incorrectly printed and being referred to a picture that isn’t there but these are minor and take nothing away from the story of these two young people. I wanted desperately for Peter and Kate to live ‘happily ever after’ and I was so sad to learn that it didn’t happen that way. Countless young men would have had their whole lives changed by their experience in WW1 and it would have been impossible to return to normal lives after the things they had seen. If not for the war, I am sure Peter and Kate would have been very happy together.I would have loved to have been able to read some of Kate’s letters to Peter. Her voice is absent for much of the book but the photographs and pictures do a very good job of bringing her to life. I give this book a rating of 4 stars but if I could it would be 4.5. This is a touching story. Gemma Best. August 14 2017 Goodreads


The book is an attempt to shed light on the family history of the author. Letters were found in 2006 which told the story of Peter and Kate, who met and fell in love pre WW1. They were in love, but also independent. Both wanted to achieve personal goals before settling down. Kate wanted to work and explore New Zealand, Peter wanted to set up a factory making agricultural machinery. You must admire their dreams, in an age when the ultimate dream for a girl was to be married.WW1 shattered their dreams though. Kate was delayed from returning to the UK, Peter’s factory was taken over by war production and Peter himself joined the Royal Field Artillery, seeing action in Gallipoli and The Somme. The letters are supplemented by photographs, which helped build up the personal aspect of the story. Sections by the author put the letters into context, giving an historical overview Peter’s letters are very emotionally restrained, giving news of people rather than what he feels. The war letters are obviously lacking in detail as they were censored. It relies on us knowing from history what horrors the war entailed. Although I’m pleased there was a child, otherwise the author would not exist, but I can’t help feeling that Kate gave up the life she loved in New Zealand to conform to the accepted role of fiancé that society required. Peter survived the war, but not the peace – he was too emotionally scarred to pick up his old life.Very sad, but not untypical of WW1. My husband’s uncle lied about his age when he volunteered to fight and was killed before he was old enough to enlist. My Aunt had a sweetheart who survived the war, but he died in the great flu epidemic that followed. These stories were told with sadness as I grew up, with only a few written notes to bear witness. So, I appreciate the book, which tells the story of this couple, so their lives and sacrifices live on. Annette Hall. July 30 2017  Goodreads


An amazing story about the author's grandparents living through the World War I and the aftermath of the horrendous events that happened. It was lovely to read their letters, and how life was so different back then to what it is now. I can only imagine what the author's Grandfather went through on the front line.

What a wonderful and heartfelt story of Grandparents that the author never knew.
Emma North. September 4 2017 Goodreads

This is an incredible book. I read it in one go... I couldn’t put it down!! I cried for the people in this true story of enduring love in the First World War. This is also a detailed historical account of the horror of the war and its impact on the personal lives of one family... It is an exceptional work, so personal and easy to read with many twists and turns and yet all ends are tied up at the end... A very satisfying and emotional read. Nora Warnaby 11 June 2017

A fascinating story and such a sad ending. Kate was a remarkable woman – to travel to the other side of the world for work a century ago – pretty amazing. I couldn’t put this book down.

Jan Bidmead 23 March 2017

A lovely love story. I was in tears at the end, so sweet yet so sad. It made me think; love in wartime must be so much more keenly felt. M.E.Kirkwood 22 January 2017

This is a super book, telling the experience of one man who volunteered at the start of the war and served throughout it. It is told largely through the letters he wrote to his fiancée, letters which concentrate far more on home and family life rather than his experience of war as if he was trying to shield from her the awful nature of what he was experiencing. The story is one of love, hope and poignancy. David. 7 February 2017

What a fantastic read. Really enjoyed this book; brought me to tears at times. Great love story. I would recommend this book to all. Susan Smith. 21 February 2017


This fascinating true story about two young people is a window into what life was like before and during the First World War. Peter and Kate fell in love, but before settling down they wanted to take advantage of opportunities available to them in 1912.

Peter developed an agricultural seed sowing machine and built a factory to produce it. Kate sailed to New Zealand to work and travel. They would have been reunited in 1914 if world war had not broken out.

Their experience of life through the war years is gripping and the reader is captivated as their story unwinds. It is a message of love and hope from a time of catastrophic upheaval that lingers long after the last page is closed. J Dawson. 11 December 2017


Peter Wardlaw met and fell in love with Catherine (Kate) Hay in the heady days before the Great War. The world was open for them to explore and neither forewent the opportunity to squeeze the most out of life. Peter worked hard for an engineering company and set up his own business while Kate sailed to work as a teacher in New Zealand - both remarkable adventures for such young people. Throughout the few years they were apart they wrote to each other, getting engaged by correspondence and keeping each other informed of daily life.

And yet a massive cloud covered the World. Europe plunged into war and soon other nations followed, including many New Zealanders and Australians who sailed to the other side of the world to protect the Old Country. Peter enlisted too and found himself fighting in the same theatre as these Antipodeans at Gallipoli, one of the most famous and most tragic battles of the War. From Turkey to Egypt and then on to France, Peter wrote to Kate often. Would they and their love survive the war?

We know the outcome of this because Peter and Kate are the author's grandparents. Many of the pieces of correspondence (from other family members and acquaintances as well as Peter) received by Kate survive and have been curated and pieced together with commentary by Dr Wardlaw. 

This isn't a book about war and doesn't contain great detail about the events of War experienced by Peter; the letters would be censored so details would have been edited anyway. This book is a picture into Edwardian courtship and everyday life in Britain before the war. The interest isn't in the content, it is in the context. This is an unadulterated view of how people faced the time of great change and their feelings during this time. Much is hidden and in the final chapters we feel the emotion ourselves as their destiny reveals itself.

In my view the book would have benefited with more historical detail of the events that impacted upon Peter and Kay. The battles, U-boat peril and some social history are introduced but not built upon and with that background it would have been more interesting but to make too much of that would be unfair. Dr Wardlaw isn't trying to tell the story of the war, he is telling the story of his family. Ordinary people in an extraordinary time - would our own lives turn out the same if we faced the same challenges? Mark Allen, 11 December 2017, Review on Goodreads

This fascinating look into the lives of two people at the turn of the previous century was like a window into history. The author skillfully helps to fill in the gaps as we are transported in time through letters that, amazingly, survived over a century. A world war that took a generation of men continued to wreak it's havoc for decades. My own grandfather, whom I never knew also participated in WWI. He served as a dentist, though his story ended differently. I appreciate the efforts of Dr. Wardlaw, in carrying us back to this difficult time. How will future generations be able to do so? So few letters are written today. Will our messages survive the ravages of time?
Scott McPherson 3 February 2018, Review on Goodreads & Amazon USA


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