Frederick Alfred Rhead – A Letter to America

Frederick Alfred Rhead
Frederick Alfred Rhead

Having recently acquired an original letter, written & signed by Frederick Alfred Rhead himself, I thought I’d share the details of it here. It is dated 16th December 1916, in the midst of the first World War and was sent to William Richards Castle Jr – the then editor of the Harvard Graduates’ Magazine in the USA.

Frederick had been having previous correspondence with Castle regarding some drawings he had sent him for possible inclusion in the Harvard magazine – this letter seems to be a follow up, but it interestingly also provides some insight into how Rhead viewed the ongoing war, as well as giving an eyewitness account of the Zeppelin air raids that occurred over north Staffordshire in November 1916. He would have been around 60 at the time of writing the letter, and employed as Art Director at Wood & Sons.

The letter was written from Frederick’s home address in Vale View, Porthill; a district of Newcastle-Under-Lyme. The Rheads had moved back to this house in around 1910, after having lived there previously.Rhead Letter 1916

The full letter reads as follows:

Dear Sir, I am favoured by your letter, and flattered by your appreciation of my drawings sent with the “Punch” collection. My chief regret is that I had no better ones by me. The larger one, however, I think is interesting as illustrating a quotation (which I enclose) which seemed to be almost miraculously appropriate to the present situation, seeing that it was written forty years back. [NB. I don’t have this ‘enclosed’ image, so I’m not clear what he is referring to!]

We English are very grateful for American sympathy. Your letter – with its long list of influential people on your committee – a list including the best intellects of one of the most intellectual cities in the world: – has given the keenest pleasure in many quarters.

The people here – both in the Provinces and in London, are thinking chaotically. I have not met a single person of any age or sex, who is not firm in the resolution to fight on, if need be in the face of tribulation and indigence: – until the menace of militarism is destroyed utterly. But we are frankly puzzled about the Germans. We cannot arouse any hatred of them as a nation. We are so accustomed to regard them as a simple and “motherly” race, that their ferocious conduct of the war upsets all our preconceived habits of thought in regard to them, and we wonder whether they will ever revert to the status of decent cosmopolitan citizens, with a reasonable regard for the right of “the other fellows”. Most of our boys are at the front (many will remain there) and most of our girls are nursing in the hospitals or making munitions.

I have seen over 20 bombs fall from a Zeppelin on a congested district. Some of them fell only a few hundred yards away, and the noise was hellish. I looked next morning, expecting to see whole streets swept away. The damage to property was amazingly small. Only one man was slightly hurt by a flying splinter and a poor old lady with a weak heart died from shock. This Zeppelin was brought down as it crossed the coast, after being crippled by attacking aeroplanes on its way back.

If the drawing I sent should be reproduced, I would much like to have a print.

With all best wishes for the success of the Bazaar, and all seasonable greetings to yourself and colleagues.

I am sincerely yours, Frederick A Rhead


From what I understand, there were two Zeppelin attacks in 1916 – one on January 31st and the second on November 27th; presumably Frederick was referring to the November raid, as it occurred only a few weeks before he wrote the letter. This seems to tally with the fact that the Zeppelin involved in that attack was eventually shot down in the North Sea (close to Great Yarmouth), as mentioned by Frederick.

I have to say that I love this item! Holding an original letter hand-written by somebody you admire gives a certain thrill at any time, but the subject here is doubly fascinating as it give snapshot view of real events that not many people around today will have knowledge of. It also gives us an impression of what kind of person Frederick was as he entered his sixties – worldly-wise, insightful, patriotic and pragmatic. It sounds like he was a nice man.

3 thoughts on “Frederick Alfred Rhead – A Letter to America

  1. I had a total loss house fire and lost an invoice from Homer Laughlin Company which had Frederick Rhead’s signature. I have searched the Internet and this is the only mention I can find of his signature except on the bottom of his work. I would love to know from anyone that reads this what that piece of paper was worth. I had it in a simple pine frame behind a huge collection of Fiesta… also lost in the fire. I need it for insurance documentation. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your comment and sorry to hear of the loss of what sounds like an important collection – I should point out that this letter was written by Frederick Alfred Rhead, not Frederick Hurten Rhead (his son), who I presume you are referring to in regards to the Homer Laughlin invoice and signature? Nonetheless, hopefully somebody out there will be able to help with an example of FH Rhead’s signature….

Any thoughts? Your views are welcome!