Letters from The Great War – “Worth a man’s life to see this place”
Leading up to Remembrance Day 2018 and marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the war, we will feature a series of transcribed letters written by former Clyde River resident Lee Grant Darrach (1882-1953) to his brother in Boston during The Great War. Lee grew up in Clyde River, PEI, one of nine children, in the home now owned by Sidney Poritz on the Clyde River Road. Lee spent time in Boston as a young man, and, in 1915, he headed over to England and ended up in the British Army. For those of you who have ancestors who fought in The Great War, it will offer some insight into their conditions. We welcome your comments and observations and for you to share stories passed down from your own ancestors in the comments section. There are 32 letters, so we will plan to publish 2-3 per week leading up to Remembrance Day. We warn readers that some of the writings describe some raw scenes, but such is the nature of war. Here is the first letter.
Eccles, England, June 20th, 1915 (Letter #1)
Just a few lines to let you know I am well. Hoping this will find you all the same. Well, I had a hard time to land here. I had to skip. They are sending everybody back that is not British born. You have got to have your birth certificate or, if you are American, you’ve got to have a passport, but I could not see through it after getting over here to get sent back. When we got to Manchester, we could not get off the ship. When the nine inspectors got on the ship, we were all lined up, so I showed him that card of Vernon’s. The card was alright but he would not take my word for being born in PEI, so it began to get too hot for me. I began looking for a way to skip, and when no one was looking, I slid down on the rope that was tied to another ship across the canal. I had just got on the other side when a bobbie seen me and order me to halt. Yes, I halted alright. You could not see my heels for dust and the damn bobbie after me. I hid under a pile of lumber from 10 o’clock Monday morning until 11 o’clock that night, so they did not get me.
We had a fine trip coming over, got weather all the way. We took horses to Avonmouth, that is five miles from Bristol. It is a military base. You could not get off the ship; there were soldiers guarding every ship. Fifteen of our fellows enlisted there; that was the only way to get off. There were 10 Americans tried to enlist. They would take them alright, but the captain would not let them leave the ship, only Canadian born. Well, when we got rid of the horses, we started for Manchester. It was 36 hours sail. We got along pretty good until we got inside Holyhead and then a submarine got after us. Well, you believe me. There was some excitement. They put every man that could lift a shovel down firing and the old ship done some zig zagging, but we were lucky there was a patrol boat came to us. They fired six shots at the Kaisers and they went down. We saw no more of them, but the patrol boat came in to the bay with us. Right on the outside of the bay, there was a big merchant ship that they sunk the day before we came. We could see about four feet of her derricks.
Well, Jack, I never seen such docks in my life as I seen in Liverpool – 10 miles of docks. There were regular canals and locks you run a ship in and they close the gate and there you are, all concrete. They got America skinned to death for big buildings and everything up to date that is in the business line such as factories here in Eccles than there is in the whole state of Massachusetts.
We came up the canal from Liverpool to Manchester. It is 36 miles and, Jack, I never seen such a sight in my life. Some of the finest bridges and factories and old mansions that I ever seen or I ever expect to see. It is worth a man’s life to see this place. Right handy where I am boarding, there is a home for Belgians. I seen a little girl yesterday about 12 years old with both her hands cut off at the wrists, little children maimed in every manner you could think of, it would make any man cry to see them that had a heart, children that could not harm anyone.
I wrote to Fulford for my birth certificate. If they get me now, I will get six months. There is all kinds of work here. When I get straightened out, I am going in the admiralty service on the transports. You get big money and a bonus from the old King.
Well, Jack, I had better come to a close for this time. Hoping to hear from you soon and give me all the news. Give my best regards to all.
14 Irwell Grove
- Fulford was Lee and Jack’s brother.
- Lee had several MacLeod cousins, so likely Vernon was one of them.