The internet is perhaps the greatest thing humanity has ever created. A practically infinite bank of collaboratively maintained information that has connected the world in ways we could never have imagined. From taking much of the legwork – often literally – out of family history research to establishing new paradigms in the appreciation of cats, the internet has changed the way we live our lives.

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However, there is one particular activity that the internet has rendered redundant, and it is an activity the decline of which I lament: Letters to the editor. Nowadays, those with an axe to grind can simply visit the comments section of a website and express their dismay at the redesigned packaging of their second favourite cheese.

In the past, however, such complaints took work. Complaining meant sitting down and physically writing about your displeasure. No spellchecker or backspace to ignore, just you, a pen and paper and a trip out of the house to the post box. That is how annoyed you had to be. You had to leave the house to tell someone.

Thankfully, I have access to generations of complaints in our brilliant newspaper archive. I've had a look through the letters to the editor that came at the end of 1939 – after war had been declared – to see what was more annoying than impending invasion.



Weary of Waiting – Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Wednesday 15 November 1939

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This is exactly the kind of angry gold I'm talking about, it has every element I look for; an outraged pseudonym living in a perspective vacuum. This was written in November, 1939, two and a half months since the invasion of Poland. Weary of Waiting is already sick of how often A WORLD WAR has been used as an excuse and I mean, really, Hitler is beastly but 20 minutes is just not on.



Lover of Peace – Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Friday 10 November 1939

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That's an awfully warry sentiment for someone signing their letter 'Lover of Peace'. It sounds like a more accurate nom de plume would have been 'Lover of Giving Germans a Good Hiding'.



Disgusted Ponderer – Bristol Evening Post, Wednesday 22 November 1939

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I appreciate that these are two unrelated letters, but the juxtaposition is, to me, beautiful. The first letter is such a tragic catalogue of misery to befall a young man, but it does beg the question; why was the child riding his bike to and from an eye operation? To have that followed by the 1939 equivalent of a bored Google search is wonderful – "Ok, I say it's 'dull', you say 'due'. I'm posting this off to the paper now and within three to five working days you will see how wrong you are, sir."

Pesky Kids! – Portsmouth Evening News, Friday 22 September 1939

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This is…actually an idea that has my full support. Well said, E.C. Webb.



Sounds Reasonable – Sheffield Evening Telegraph Thursday 7 December 1939

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The blackout is often mentioned as the least popular of the many hardships those at home were forced to endure. However, few letters to the editor go so far as to suggest that for the safety of the writer - during a WORLD WAR - vital resources be directed towards the building of a subterranean network of tunnels that would allow Arnold to move freely about Sheffield. Just stop, look and listen like everyone else, Arnie.



Back off, Captain Fun - Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Friday 20 October 1939

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I have never met this person, nor am I likely to (for a variety of obvious reasons – I've never been to Sheffield for one) but I can confidently say I would dislike them. The writer of this letter is the human embodiment of a frown, willing to deny the nation the pleasure of a quiet pint in the evening, providing the much-needed escapism from A WORLD WAR. The letter doesn't even go into detail around the potential hazard of people standing around gossiping, or to whom the situation presents danger.

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This guy though…this guy is my kind of guy.



No, No Thanks – Nottingham Evening Post, Saturday 18 November 1939

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I don't even understand the complaint here but look at the signoff. That is the most horrible signoff since the From Hell letter. It sounds like a euphemism for something truly awful, and I for one will now never buy chocolate – euphemistic or otherwise – from any luxury chocolatiers – euphemistic or otherwise – in Nottingham.

To explore almost 12 million newspaper pages 1710-1955 and find the best complainers in history, visit our historic newspaper collection.