I’ve been spending a little more time with the World War 1 letters this morning – a good activity for a snowy day. There are three ‘voices’ in the group: my great-aunt Emma who served as a field nurse, my grandfather Ridd, who served as a chaplain and stretcher bearer, and my great-uncle Joe who was sent immediately to Europe as a non-commissioned officer.
Joe lied about his age on his attestation papers. When he enlisted in June 1915, he said he was born in 1896. Someone of authority noted in the side margin that “…birth certificate shews date of birth 19 March 1899.” He was sixteen years old, but no one prevented him from being shipped to active duty in France.
His letters are expressive, and retain a chatty innocence.
This one, dated “France, 25/12/17“ is written to his older brother Ridd who was still based in England at that time. He starts writing it Christmas Day, thanking his brother for the gift of a new pair of warm gloves, and continues on page 3:
“It is just 3:40 am now of the 26th and there is about five inches of snow up on top. This is one of the best ‘holes’ in the ground I have struck, warm as toast and very roomy. Someone with lots of time, made a large desk, pigeon holes and all, so it is very comfy for writing letters on shift. Have to call it off for now. Love from Joe.”
I’ve been spending a little time in Port Hope this week helping my parents.
I have returned to the city with what I call a real treasure. THESE LETTERS:
I’ve taken on the job of archiving my Grandfather Elliot’s letters home from the European front during WW1. Among other things, my grandfather, Ridd, was a prolific writer who published articles, commentaries and stories in many newspapers from the 1920s on. That is one reason why these letters, written mostly to his mother Sarah from various European locations, promise to be interesting reading. In most cases, they look to be very descriptive and are many sheets long.
I find these ‘postcards’ from the front fascinating The boys serving there were obviously encouraged to write home, but due to the sensitivity of their location (?) they were provided with these pre-printed postcards. They clearly were instructed to cross off the information that wasn’t relevant so that the family members at home could at least receive some news.
Here is a closer look:
As a historian, I must say that I have worked with centuries old documents in the Vatican Library that were in better condition than these letters. The paper during wartime was obviously inferior and is now very delicate and yellowed. My self appointed task now is to read, sort, photograph, and store these documents properly in order to preserve them for future generations of our family. I LOVE doing this kind of work. I can’t wait to read what he wrote on those pages and pages of letters to his mother. I WILL KEEP YOU POSTED.