Archive for the ‘WW1’ Category

Many of you will recall last year we featured 32 transcribed letters from The Great War that former Clyde River resident Lee Grant Darrach (1882-1953) wrote to his brother in Boston. Further to publishing these documents, Alan Buchanan was engaged to read each of the letters which was recorded by Perry Williams, Virtual Studios Creative Digital Media. These recordings certainly bring to life the gripping reality of the War that Lee experienced. To listen to Alan’s reading of each of the letters, click here or on the photo, scroll down and click play on each of the 32 audio files appearing just underneath each title. You can read along as you listen. We commemorate Remembrance Day 2019 by sharing these audio letters. This project was managed and supported by the Clyde River History Committee. We once again thank the Darrach family for sharing these letters.

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At Sea, May 23rd, 1919 – (Letter #32)

Dear Brother;

Just a few lines to let you know that I am on my way back. I think I will land in Halifax sometime tomorrow if we have any luck. We have a good fast boat, Aquitania, a Cunard liner and we have had very poor weather, very rough most of the way. Everyone sick, about 6000 troops aboard, also 1000 passengers.

There is a friend of mine by the name of Bagley. He was going to call and see you. I wrote to you nearly two weeks ago telling you he is a plumber and he belongs to the Southern States. He is going to try to get a job in Boston and he is alright.

Well, Mother told me in her last letter that you will all be home this summer. I guess I will have to stay there a while to see if I can get some grits into me, but this trip is doing me a lot of good, as they are feeding us pretty good, the first for a long time. I do not know how long I will be in Halifax, as I did not get settled up yet. I did not have any money for three months. They were scared to give us any as there was a wild bunch in Winchester.

Give my best regards to all. Hoping to see you all again soon.

From your brother, Lee.

Editor’s Notes:

  • This is Lee’s last letter. Thank you for following along. We look forward to hearing from you with questions or comments.
  • RMS Aquitania (1914-50) served in both world wars and it was the grandest ship of its day. It had a long and rich history. At the end of WW1, it was used to transport Canadian solders back home. Lovely video here on Aquitania which includes its service in WW1 and WW2.
  • The Letters from the Great War Series attracted visitors from 40 countries. The top ten in terms of traffic volume were Canada, US, Germany, France, China, UK, Netherlands, Australia, Finland and India. Each month, we had an audience of around 700 visitors and they viewed a total of 2200 pages which expanded our audience for our other website stories as well.
  • We offer a special thanks to Jon Darrah, Lee’s great-nephew/grandson of Jack for this donation of letters. These letters have offered our audience and future generations a first-hand glimpse into The Great War. For those who knew Lee, they said, “With Lee, there was always a story.” To honour his legacy, we will ensure that with Lee, there will always be a story.
  • We engaged Alan Buchanan to voice all 32 letters and those recordings will be donated to The Island Collection at UPEI. Thank you to Alan for capturing Lee’s spirit and bringing these letters to life.
  • Thank you to CBC Mainstreet’s Angela Walker for her interest in this series. We were featured in two interviews. The link to the August 22nd interview is here and the link to the November 9th interview is here.
  • Thank you to The Guardian for featuring the story in their special edition on the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. Journalist Josh Lewis did a great job of capturing the narrative of the letters. To view the story, click here.
  • Thank you to Peter Rukavina of http://www.ruk.ca for featuring two stories on the letters. To view the first story, click here and the second story, click here.
  • The letters now appear on a special page on our site where you can read them in chronological order here.
  • It is the Clyde River Historical Committee’s honour to recognize the Centenary of end of The Great War and to show our respect to the soldiers who fought. Lee’s letters offer a voice to their heroic service.

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Devonport, England, Military Hospital, R.A.M.C, 7th Coy, February 16th, 1919 (Letter #31) 

Dear Brother;

Hoping this will find you in the pink as this leaves me at present. We have got the fever very bad here again. We have got about 200 in this hospital now down with it, about seven deaths a day on average. It is still not quite as bad as the last time.

Well, I have been trying to get out of the army since the first day of the year and I should have been out the 3rd of January, but there is so damn much red tape they are trying to do me out of my passage back, but there is nothing doing, they got plenty of fight out of me. I have not done four years for nothing. Well, have you got plenty of work? Labour is unsettled over here. Everybody is on strike. The country is in a hell of a state, plenty of Bolshevik and German money behind it.

Well, how is Herb Hatch and all the other boys? I suppose Ted and Mary are going to high school by this time. Is Ted alright. You said he had a bad ear the last time you wrote.

Remember me to Sam, Flo and children. I heard Lillian is working, as I had a letter from Mother yesterday. Well, I wish you would drop a few lines when you have time. Hoping I will be able to see you all about 1920.

With love and best wishes.

From your brother, Lee.

Editor’s Notes:

  • The war may have been over but the suffering continued. Labour movements had been building momentum throughout the war. Strikes were rampant.
  • The Paris Peace Conference began on January 18th, 1919, included delegates from 27 nations and resulted in the Treaty of Versailles with Germany and subsequent treaties with Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey.
  • The Treaty of Versailles placed full blame for the war and a tremendous financial burden on Germany, which is believed to have created the conditions for the later rise of Nazism which led to WWII.
  • World War 1 casualties were estimated to be somewhere between 9 and 11 million military. The estimate for civilian casualties is somewhere around 8 million.
  • The army camps were rife with flu, and when the soldiers returned home, the virus spread to their families and communities. Estimates were between 20 and 40 million died within a year and a half after the war, but current estimates are much higher at 100 million. It was referred to as the Spanish Flu. Spain was neutral during the war. The Allied countries suppressed the news about the flu, but in Spain they freely reported on the illness, so people associated it with them.

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Devonport, August 21st, 1918 – (Letter #30) 

Dear Brother;

Just a few lines to let you know I am alright. Hoping this will find you all the same. Well, I am still in Blighty and I am tired of writing and getting no answer. I have not had a letter from you since I had the registered one with the dollar in it. It seems to be the same with all us Canadians here, as there is about a hundred in the hospital here and they don’t get any letters from Canada. I would like to know where in hell they are going to. That is why I am having mine sent to a private address. I do stand more chance of getting them.

Well, I had a Medical Board two weeks ago and they marked me B I for B II, so I am expecting to be on the next draft and it is for Siberia, but you leave that to me. I do not want to go there. It is too far away and too cold. I would rather go to France. I think I can kick off it. Well, I am not fit for it anyhow, but I am getting better every day. I am getting stronger. It takes quite a little time to get over gas, but this is a dead place here. I do not like it.

I was just thinking today, I am going on to my fourth year in the army. It seems about 10 years. Well, the good old U.S.A. is doing good work. They are getting lots of men over here and that is what we want to end this war quick. They are also good fighters, but, of course, they have lots of swank. They tell us they are coming to finish the war here. They don’t know what we have done and suffered the past four years. But they’ll love their swank when they get to France and up against old Jerry.

When do you think it will be over? Have you got plenty of work? Well, as long as you can keep out of the army, you are alright. Well, I do hope you will get this letter and try to write to me once in a while. Remember me to the boys. How is Sam? I never hear anything about Dave Ross. What is he doing?

Love and xxxx for Mary and Ted. Hope he is better with lots of love.

From, Lee

Editor’s Notes:

  • Lee mentions Siberia. After Russia had backed out of WW1, the remaining Allied countries sent soldiers to Russia during their civil war to assist the anti-communist movement, strengthen the Eastern front and also to protect military supplies and equipment in Russian ports. They eventually backed out in 1920, but this intervention did create distrust between East and West.
  • The Americans helped to turn back the Germans in the Spring Offensive from March to July and during the final Hundred Days Offensive from August to November. Germany was not able to replenish their armies to compete with the influx of fresh American soldiers and improved morale among the Allies. The Central Power armies were tired, the citizens were hungry. Germany wanted to fight another battle at sea with the British, but the German navy refused and revolted, supported by civilians. The German Empire collapsed. They had no choice and an armistice was signed on November 11th, 1918.
  • There are two more letters, but this letter represents the last letter before the war ended.

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Editor’s Note: The Guardian will run a special feature on Saturday, November 10th on WW1. Included will be a feature on our series, “Letters from the Great War”. Make sure to check it out.

Devonport, 5 Sandringham Street, Scarborough, England, June 3rd, 1918 (Letter #29) 

Dear Brother;

Your most welcome letter received a few days ago, the registered one, I mean. Glad to hear you are all well and I do hope Teddy is alright by this time. Well, you can see by this letter they are still keeping me on the move. I am now in the town from where I sailed for Egypt and I do not like it. It is too hard for me. We are supposed to be getting hospital training, but it is a damn job, carrying beds out of the wards with the patient in them. It is too heavy for me. I refused to do any more today. I am willing to do it, but I can’t. I have been excused all stretcher drills and marching by four doctors in the training battalion in Blackpool and, also, all the lifting in my old unit and I am damn sure I won’t do it here.

Well, I was over to Plymouth the other evening and I ran into two brothers from Charlottetown, PEI. They know us. They have folks in Cornwall and Nine Mile Creek, so we had a good time. They came over here on a cable ship from Halifax. They are waiting for a boat back. I am only 15 minutes walk from Plymouth. There are lots of Yankee sailors here, lots of them from Boston. Your dollar came in very handy for grub. I got 4 shillings and 2 pence for it, that is full value. I have not had a drink for 8 months, can’t afford it, it takes all I can get hold of to buy something to eat as we do not get it any other way. It is wicked here and it is damn little we get.

I am sure of getting your letters now, as long as you send them to the Scarborough address. Aunt Maggie sent me a parcel and a letter. I got the letter but the parcel she sent to the Lancaster Fusiliers unit, so I know they pinched it. Did you ever get the watch back you sent me?

Well, I do not know what to think of this war. It looks kind of bad now on the western front. I wish to God it was over. I am damn fed up. I expect to be in France or some other front in about 6 to 8 weeks time. I would rather be out at the front than be messed about here.

Well, I will have to come to a close for this time. Give my love to all and lots of xxx to Ted and Mary and a thousand thanks for the $. Remember me to Herb Hatch and old Klein. Tell him we got Jerusalem for the Jews and that I done my bit in getting it for them, so they can all go there after the war is over in 1928. What has become of Dave Ross? I never hear tell of him.

Goodbye with lots of love and best wishes from Lee.

Editor’s Note:

  • The US began sending over troops in the Spring of 1918, at an estimated rate of 10,000 per day. This was a tremendous boost to the Allies and helped to reinvigorate the tired soldiers.

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Editor’s note: CBC Radio Mainstreet (FM 96.1) did a follow-up interview with me to talk about our series “Letters from the Great War”. The segment will air on Friday, November 9th, sometime between 4-6 pm. Our history committee engaged Alan Buchanan to voice all 32 letters and one of these will be featured as part of the interview. Make sure to listen in.

Blackpool, England, March 26, 1918 – Letter #28 

Dear Brother;

Jack, just a few lines in answer to your most welcome letter received March 23rd. Pleased to hear you are all well, but I am awful sorry to hear about Mr. MacDonald’s sudden death. It was the first I heard about it. That is the first letter I had from you since last May.

Well, Jack, I am still alive and able to move as you or Flo said. It was my mother’s prayer that saved me. I did not ever think for a minute that I would be alive to tell you that I was in France the second time, as I was in the worst of it 36 hours from the time I left England and, believe me, it was hell and I have been through hell.

I am in Blackpool now, came here yesterday, transferred to the R.A.M.C., so you can see for yourself, I am not much more good when I am no more good for infantry, but I would not be surprised to be in France again within another month. I know I won’t like this. I would rather be fighting than taking care of the wounded, but we can’t suit ourselves in the army. If I go again, it will be my last. I won’t try to go through what I haven’t done as they have not given me a very square deal, as I have been at it for nearly three years without a leave. I only had 10 days out of hospital and I was back again within 10 days in France.

Now, Jack, I want you to write this address and they will send them on to me as God only knows where because I do not. Well, I am just thinking as I am writing this letter, will I ever see Boston and you all again. If I have to go again, I won’t. But nevermind, it is all in a lifetime. I would like to be able to sit down and have a good talk with you all and I could tell you what kind of damn skunks we are fighting – that would make you open your eyes. Thank God, you have not gone through it and if you don’t, I will for you.

Give my best respects to Herb Hatch and Klein. I guess they are only friends I have, so don’t ever worry over me. When you have time, drop me a line. As always, I like to get a letter.

Love and xxx for Ted and Mary.

Your brother, Lee.

Editor’s note: 

  • Lee likely fought in the Spring Offensive, one of the fiercest and desperate battles of the War, which took place at the Western Front. The Germans realized it was their last chance to win this war before the Americans fully deployed their resources. The Germans also had the advantage of extra soldiers that had been previously fighting in Russia.
  • R.A.M.C. – Royal Army Medical Corps – they operated the army’s medical units.
  • Mr. MacDonald was Jack’s father-in-law, Beatrice’s father. Mr. MacDonald ran the Charlottetown Water Works. These are the same MacDonald’s as Lucy Maud Montgomery’s husband Ewen.

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England, August 9th, 1917 (Letter #27) 

Dear Brother – Jack & B

Just a few lines to let you know I am getting along pretty well. Hoping this will find you all in the pink. Well, I am out of hospital again and back to duty but still in England. I am now with the 5th Reserve, Lancaster Fusiliers in Scarborough. It is on the east coast, the first place the Germans raided. I guess you remember it. I know I do and I am in it now, but it is better than France. I expect to go back anytime now. My knee is as well now as it ever will be, but it is awful hard to march as my knee is weak, but I have to go back just the same.

I have had a very good time so far since I came to England but I have not had a letter from you or from home for four months. I do not know whether you are all dead or alive, would like to hear from you all once more and I would also like to know when the war is going to end. I am fed up with it, wish Uncle Sam would hurry up with about five million men and get them over here and wipe the damn Germans off the face of the Earth.

Well, Jack, are you working all the time and how is business in Boston? Does it make much difference since they started into the war? Now be sure and write soon and give me all the news. Remember me to Florrie and Sam and all the children, not forgetting Ted and Mary.

With lots of love for all,
Your brother, Lee

P.S. This address will get me alright now. If I have to go to France before I get an answer, they will follow me alright. Lee

#281426 Pt. Lee G. Darrach, 5th Reserve Lancaster Fusiliers, D. Coy, Racecourse Camp, Scarborough

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Uplyme, Devon, England, July 6th, 1917 (Letter #26) 

Dear Brother;

Just a few lines to let you know I am getting along fine. I am leaving hospital one week from today and going on sick leave. I don’t know how long they will give me but I will be at our depot for a while before I go back, God only knows what regiment I will get back to. They can send me to any Battalion now after coming out of hospital. I am going to try to get out of the infantry, as I can’t do any more marching. The doctor told me I would always have a bad knee.

Well, this is a lovely place here but is awful lonesome here for me. I could stay another month if I wanted to. We get plenty of good grub and we have to be in bed at 8 o’clock. The girls are very scarce around here. I will have to get out. I am going to London from here for a few days and then to Manchester.

Well, I don’t know when this war is going to be over. I am damn well fed up with it, but I suppose I will have to go back again soon to France and, believe me, I have seen enough of France. There are too many iron foundries flying through the air to suit me.

Well, I have no news so will have to come to a close for this time. Give my love and best regards to Flo, Sam and kids, Mary and Teddy and all. Don’t write until I can give you an address, so I can get your letters.

Goodby with love and best wishes, from your brother, Lee


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Exeter, England – June 25th, 1917 – (Letter #25)

Dear Brother;

Just a few lines to let you know I am in England in hospital in Exeter. Is in the South of England. I was blown up with a high explosive, but thank God, I did get not get any of the shell. It shook me up pretty bad. I did not know how bad it was hurt for a while, but I got a bad knee out of it. I was sent down to the base in France and sent to First American Hospital, so you know I was alright then. To make it better, the major’s name was Darrach. He is from N.Y. and he is a fine man. He and I are great pals. He took me in to his ward and he would not allow any other doctor but himself to look after me and he took the best of care of me. He is the head doctor of the hospital and, if I ever go back, I’ve got to go to N.Y. and see him.

Well, Jack, they have lots of rich man’s sons as orderlies. There is one of the Drapers from Hopedale and Judge? (forgot his name) from N.Y, his son. They are doing their bit, in fact, they are all college men and the sisters are fine. They are out of the Presbyterian Hospital in N.Y. There is a Sister MacDonald from Summerside and a couple more from Canada. It is very quiet where I am now, very strict. I am hoping to get up soon on sticks.

My address is #3949 Private Lee G. Darrach, 1/7 Lancaster F. No. 1 Auxiliary Hospital, Exeter, Devon, England. That will get me for a while. Give my best wishes to all – Ted and Mary, Flo, kids and Sam and the whole bunch.

From, Lee

Editor’s Note:

  • Based on the dates of the letters leading up to and including this one, Lee was likely fighting in the Battle of Arras when he was wounded. The Battle of Vimy Ridge ran from April 9th to 12th and was part of the Battle of Arras which extended from April 9th to May 16th. His letters indicate he was fighting in France from March 10th on up until the time he was wounded.
  • First American Hospital was in Paris, France.
  • The Sister MacDonald that he is referring to is Beatrice MacDonald from North Bedeque. She left PEI for New York to advance her education. When the war began, she joined the effort. Beatrice is the most decorated nurse of WW1, the most prestigious award being a Purple Heart. The Guardian ran a story about her, click here. To learn more about PEI Nurses in WW1, we recommend reading Katherine Dewar’s book, Those Splendid Girls: The Heroic Service of Prince Edward Island Nurses in the Great War.

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France – April 28th, 1917 (Letter #24)

Dear Brother;

Just a few lines to let you know I am well. Hoping this will find you all the same. I have not had a letter from you since I came to France, but I have written every week. Hope you are getting them alright. I know Mother doesn’t get half my letters I write, as I can tell by the letters I get from home. My address in now 1/7 Lancaster Fusiliers, C.Coy, B.E. Force ℅ G.P.O. London attached to #427 Field Coy (E.L.) Royal Engineers.

Well, I bet you are pleased that old Wilson did take a tumble and came into the war. Give me all the news when you write. I bet there is some excitement around Boston. I see by the papers they are sending troops over here. Well, I think it will shorten the war.

Things are very lively on this front but it is all one sided and that is our side. I hope they will drive them all straight to hell, but I don’t think the devil will have them. Do you ever hear from Vernon MacLeod? I wish I had his address. He might be right handy for all I know. When I get his address, I will write to him. I have seen quite a few Canadians, but no one I know yet.

Well, how is work this Spring in Boston? Are you kept busy all the time and is Sam working all the time?  I wonder how poor Eldon is getting along. I hear he had to go to Halifax. I don’t see why they keep him with such a bad heart. Well, we are having very good weather at present and I hope it will keep so. We did have awful rotten weather ever since we came to France until last week. Well, there is always something to do on this front.

Well, I am with the Engineers at present and there is plenty of hard work for all of us all, but I would like to drop in and have a good feed with you. I think I could stand it all right. Remember me to Herb Hatch and all the boys. I bet Teddy is a big boy now. Lots of love and xxx for Mary and Ted. Remember me to Flo, Sam and kids.

With love and best wishes from your brother, Lee.

Editor’s Note: The US remained out of the war as long as they could. Politically, they took a position of neutrality; however, they were helping to finance both Britain and France in their war efforts. Americans with British ancestry had been keen from the beginning to have US join the war, but others who were predominantly Democrats were dead against it. There were two developments that changed that balance further to the earlier sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania in 1914. In 1917, Germany decided, in an effort to finally win the long war, to starve out Britain by blocking merchant ships reaching its shores by declaring “unrestricted submarine warfare”. The US also intercepted a telegram where Germany offered to assist Mexico in regaining the territories, now part of the US, they has lost in the Mexican-American war. The US declared war against Germany in April 1917 and later in December against Austria and Hungary. Germany calculated the US would take some time to be ready to fight a war, and, by that time, it would be over.

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