Soldier’s identity discovered through research for The Maple Leaf

Before and after photo of L/Cpl James Smart, 25th Bn Nova Scotia Rifles, winner of the light heavyweight wrestling championship at the Canadian Corps Championships, July 1, 1918.  Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-003505

When COBWFA member Rod Henderson turned in a story about the Canadian Corps Championships of 1918 for an upcoming edition of branch magazine The Maple Leaf, one of the photographs available to illustrate it was of an unnamed corporal of the 25th Battalion, Nova Scotia Rifles, who was described as the winner of the light heavyweight boxing title. As managing editor, I smelled a challenge and set about trying to identify the man whose striking photo I was marveling at for its sharpness and detail – along with his arresting gaze. There had to be a way to track him down. Continue reading

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Rudyard Kipling and the Great War – with a Canadian Flavour


Before you hit the buffalo, find out where the rest of the herd is. – Proverb.

introduction notes on the text

THIS particular fold of downs behind Salisbury might have been a hump of prairie near Winnipeg. The team that came over the rise, widely spaced between pole-bar and whiffle- trees, were certainly children of the prairie. They shied at the car. Their driver asked them dis- passionately what they thought they were doing, anyway. They put their wise heads together, and did nothing at all. Yes. Oh, yes! said the driver. They were Western horses. They weighed better than twelve hundred apiece. He himself was from Edmonton way. The Camp? Why, the camp was right ahead along up this road. No chance to miss it, and, ‘Sa-ay! Look out for our lorries!’
A fleet of them hove in sight going at the rate of knots, and keeping their left with a conscientiousness only learned when you come out of a country where nearly all the Provinces (except British Columbia) keep to the right. Every line of them, from steering- wheel to brake-shoes, proclaimed their nationality. Three perfectly efficient young men who were sprinkling a golf -green with sifted earth ceased their duties to stare at them. Two riding-boys (also efficient) on racehorses, their knees under their chins and their saddles between their horses’ ears, cantered past on the turf. The rattle of the motors upset their catsmeat, so one could compare their style of riding with that of an officer loping along to over- take a string of buck-wagons that were trotting towards the horizon. The riding-boys have to endure sore hardship nowadays. One gentleman has already complained that his ‘private gallops’ are being cut up by gun- wheels and ‘irremediably ruined.’
Then more lorries, contractors’ wagons, and in- creasing vileness of the battered road-bed, till one slid through a rude gate into a new world, of canvas as far as the eye could reach, and beyond that outlying clouds of tents. It is not a contingent that Canada has sent, but an army – horse, foot, guns, engineers, and all details, fully equipped. Taking that army’s strength at thirty-three thou- sand, and the Dominion’s population at eight million, the camp is Canada on the scale of one to two hundred and forty – an entire nation unrolled across a few square miles of turf and tents and huts. Here I could study at close hand ‘a Colony’ yearning to shake off ‘the British yoke.’ For, beyond question, they yearned – the rank and file unreservedly, the officers with more restraint but equal fervour – and the things they said about the Yoke were simply lamentable.
From Nova Scotia to Victoria, and every city, township, distributing-centre, and divisional point between; from subtropical White River and sultry Jackfish to the ultimate north that lies up beside Alaska; from Kootenay, and Nelson of the fruit- farms, to Prince Edward Island, where motors are not allowed; they yearned to shake it off, with the dust of England from their feet, ‘at once and some time before that.’
I had been warned that when Armageddon came the ‘Colonies’ would ‘revolt against the Mother Country as one man’; but I had no notion I should ever see the dread spectacle with my own eyes or the ‘one man’ so tall!
Joking apart, the Canadian Army wants to get to work. It admits that London is ‘some city,’ but says it did not take the trip to visit London only. Armageddon, which so many people in Europe knew was bound to come, has struck Canada out of the blue, like a noonday murder in a small town. How will they feel when they actually view some of the destruction in France, these men who are used to making and owning their homes? And what effect will it have on their land’s outlook and development for the next few generations? Older countries may possibly slip back into some sort of toleration. New peoples, in their first serious war, like girls in their first real love-affair, neither forget nor forgive. That is why it pays to keep friends with the young.
And such young! They ran inches above all normal standards, not in a few companies or battalions, but through the whole corps; and it was not easy to pick out foolish or even dull faces among them. Details going about their business through the camp’s much mud; defaulters on fatigue; orderlies, foot and mounted; the pro- cession of lorry-drivers; companies falling in for inspection; battalions parading; brigades moving off for manoeuvres; batteries clanking in from the ranges; they were all supple, free, and intelligent ; and moved with a lift and a drive that made one sing for joy.


Only a few months ago that entire collection poured into
[Page 33, line 15] Armageddon

The place of the final battle with the Anti-Christ named in Revelations 16. 16. Frequently used to describe the war of 1914-1918. Valcartier camp in pink shirts and straw hats, desperately afraid they might not be in time. Since then they have been taught several things. Notably, that the more independent the individual soldier, the more does he need fore- thought and endless care when he is in bulk.
‘Just because we were all used to looking after ourselves in civil life,’ said an officer, ‘we used to send parties out without rations. And the parties used to go, too! And we expected the boys to look after their own feet. But we’re wiser now.’
‘They’re learning the same thing in the New Army,’ I said. ‘Company officers have to be taught to be mothers and housekeepers and sanitary- inspectors. Where do your men come from?’
‘Tell me some place that they don’t come from,’ said he, and I could not. The men had rolled up from everywhere between the Arctic circle and the border, and I was told that those who could not get into the first contingent were moving heaven and earth and local politicians to get into the second.
‘There’s some use in politics now,’ that officer reflected. ‘But it’s going to thin the voting-lists at home.’
A good many of the old South African crowd (the rest are coming) were present and awfully correct. Men last met as privates between De Aar and Belmont were captains and majors now, while one lad who, to the best of his ability, had painted Cape Town pink in those fresh years, was a grim non-commissioned officer worth his disciplined weight in dollars. ‘I didn’t remind Dan of old times when he turned up at Valcartier disguised as a respectable citizen.’ said my informant. ‘I just roped him in for my crowd. He’s a father to ’em. He knows.’ ‘And have you many cheery souls coming on?’ I asked. ‘Not many; but it’s always the same with a first contingent. You take everything that offers and weed the bravoes out later.’
‘We don’t weed,’ said an officer of artillery. ‘Any one who has had his passage paid for by the Canadian Government stays with us till he eats out of our hand. And he does. They make the best men in the long run,’ he added. I thought of a friend of mine who is now disabusing two or three ‘old soldiers’ in a Service corps of the idea that they can run the battalion, and I laughed. The Gunner was right. ‘Old soldiers’ after a little loving care, become valuable and virtuous.
A company of Foot was drawn up under the lee of a fir plantation behind us. They were a miniature of their army as their army was of their people, and one could feel the impact of strong personality almost like a blow.
‘If you’d believe it,’ said a cavalryman, ‘we’re forbidden to cut into that little wood-lot, yonder! Not one stick of it may we have! We could make shelters for our horses in a day out of that stuff.’ ‘But it’s timber!’ I gasped. ‘Sacred, tame trees!’ ‘Oh, we know what wood is! They issue it to us by the pound. Wood to burn by the pound! What’s wood for, anyway? ‘
‘And when do you think we shall be allowed to go?’ some one asked, not for the first time. ‘By and by,’ said I. ‘And then you’ll have to detail half your army to see that your equipment isn’t stolen from you.’ ‘What!’ cried an old Strathcona Horse. He looked anxiously towards the horse-lines. ‘I was thinking of your mechanical transport and your travelling workshops and a few other things that you’ve got.’
I got away from those large men on their windy hill-top, and slid through mud and past mechanical transport and troops untold towards Lark Hill, On the way I passed three fresh-cut pine sticks, laid and notched one atop of the other to shore up a caving bank. Trust a Canadian or a beaver within gunshot of standing timber!


Lark Hill is where the Canadian Engineers live, in the midst of a profligate abundance of tools and carts, pontoon wagons, field telephones, and other mouth-watering gear. Hundreds of tin huts are being built there, but quite leisurely, by contract, I noticed three workmen, at eleven o’clock of that Monday forenoon, as drunk as Davy’s sow, reeling and shouting across the landscape. So far as I could ascertain, the workmen do not work extra shifts, nor even, but I hope this is incorrect, on Saturday afternoons; and I think they take their full hour at noon these short days.
Every camp throws up men one has met at the other end of the earth; so, of course, the Engineer C.O. was an ex-South African Canadian.
‘Some of our boys are digging a trench over yonder,’ he said. ‘I’d like you to look at ’em.’ The boys seemed to average five feet ten inches, with thirty-seven inch chests. The soil was unaccommodating chalk.
‘What are you?’ I asked of the first pickaxe. ‘Private.’ ‘Yes, but before that?’ ‘McGill (University understood). Nineteen twelve.’ ‘And that boy with the shovel?’ ‘Queen’s, I think. No; he’s Toronto.’
And thus the class in applied geology went on half up the trench, under supervision of a Corporal-Bachelor-of-Science with a most scientific biceps. They were young; they were beautifully fit, and they were all truly thankful that they lived in these high days. Sappers, like sergeants, take care to make themselves comfortable. The corps were dealing with all sorts of little domestic matters in the way of arrangements for baths, which are cruelly needed, and an apparatus for depopulating shirts, which is even more wanted. Healthy but unwashen men sleeping on the ground are bound to develop certain things which at first disgust them, but later are accepted as an unlovely part of the game.
It would be quite easy to make bakehouses and super-heated steam fittings to deal with the trouble. The huts themselves stand on brick piers, from one to three feet above ground. The board floors are not grooved or tongued, so there is ample ventila- tion from beneath; but they have installed decent cooking ranges and gas, and the men have already made themselves all sorts of handy little labour-saving gadgets. They would do this if they were in the real desert.
Incidentally, I came across a delightful bit of racial instinct. A man had been told to knock up a desk out of broken packing- cases. There is only one type of desk in Canada —the roller-top, with three shelves each side the knee-hole, characteristic sloping sides, raised back, and long shelf in front of the writer. He reproduced it faithfully, barring, of course, the roller- top; and the thing leaped to the eye out of its English office surroundings. The Engineers do not suffer for lack of talents. Their senior officers appear to have been the heads, and their juniors the assistants, in big concerns that wrestle with unharnessed nature. (There is a tale of the building of a bridge in Valcartier Camp which is not bad hearing.) The rank and file include miners; road, trestle, and bridge men; iron construction men who, among other things, are steeplejacks; whole castes of such as deal in high explosives for a living; loco-drivers, superintendents, too, for aught I know, and a solid packing of selected machinists, mechanics, and electricians. Unluckily, they were all a foot or so too tall for me to tell them that, even if their equipment escaped at the front, they would infallibly be raided for their men.


I left McGill, Queen’s, and Toronto still digging in their trench, which another undergraduate, mounted and leading a horse, went out of his way to jump standing. My last glimpse was of a little detachment, with five or six South African ribbons among them, who were being looked over by an officer. No one thought it strange that they should have embodied themselves and crossed the salt seas independently as ‘So-and-So’s Horse’. (It is best to travel with a title these days.) Once arrived, they were not at all particular, except that they meant to join the Army, and the lonely batch was stating its qualifications as Engineers.
‘They get over any way and every way,’ said my companion. ‘Swimming, I believe.’ ‘But who was the So-and-So that they were christened after?’ I asked. ‘I guess he was the man who financed ’em or grub-staked ’em while they were waiting. He may be one of ’em in that crowd now; or he may be a provincial magnate at home getting another bunch together’.


Then I went back to the main camp for a last look at that wonderful army, where the tin-roofed messes take French conversation lessons with the keen-faced French-Canadian officers, and where one sees esprit-de-Corps in the making. Nowhere is local sentiment stronger than in Canada. East and West, lake and maritime provinces, prairie and mountain, fruit district and timber lands – they each thrill to it. The West keeps one cold blue open- air eye on the townful East. Winnipeg sits between, posing alternately as sophisticated metropolis and simple prairie. Alberta, of the thousand horses, looks down from her high-peaked saddle on all who walk on their feet; and British Columbia thanks God for an equable climate, and that she is not like Ottawa, full of politicians and frozen sludge. Quebec, unassailable in her years and experience, smiles tolerantly on the Nova Scotian, for he has a history too, and asks Montreal if any good thing can come out of Brandon, Moose Jaw, or Regina. They discuss each other out- rageously, as they know each other intimately, over four thousand miles of longitude – their fathers, their families, and all the connections. Which is useful when it comes to sizing up the merits of a newly-promoted non-commissioned officer or the capacities of a quartermaster’.
As their Army does and suffers, and its record begins to blaze, fierce pride of regiment will be added to local love and the national pride that backs and envelops all. But that pride is held in very severe check now; for they are neither provinces nor tribes but a welded people fighting in the War of Liberty. They permit themselves to hope that the physique of their next contingent will not be worse than that of the present. They believe that their country can send forward a certain number of men and a certain number behind that, all equipped to a certain scale. Of discomforts endured, of the long learning and relearning and waiting on, they say nothing. They do not hint what they will do when their hour strikes, though they more than hint their longing for that hour. In all their talk I caught no phrase that could be twisted into the shadow of a boast or any claim to superiority, even in respect to their kit and outfit; no word or implication of self-praise for any sacrifice made or intended. It was their rigid humility that impressed one as most significant and, perhaps, most menacing for such as may have to deal with this vanguard of an armed Nation.

notes on the text


Much more on the Great War and Rudyard Kipling here


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Building the Leadership of the CEF

Canadian Army Journal article about how the battalion leadership was found and formed into a deadly fighting force.


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Letters to Marie

Mike Dobson contributed this a few years ago.

These are the letters of our Father, Grandfather and Great-grandfather, #157114 Pte JG Sproule, 3rd Cdn MG Coy, BEF, France written to his cousin Marie Golay. Marie was the daughter of Katherine (Sproule) and Henry Golay then living in Bowmanville, Ontario. Throughout the war, Marie lived at 142 Ellsworth Avenue in Toronto. Marie lost her brother Hal at the end of the Battle of Somme on October 22, 1916 and she herself had enlisted as a nursing sister. Later Marie married Howard Bradley, a realtor, and they lived in Oshawa. I’m unsure how Dad obtained these letters but perhaps Marie returned them after the war or after she married Howard.

Maple leaf from the letterhead of Joe’s first letter (below) to Marie from Sandling Camp

Sandling Camp


May 1916

Dear Marie,

Excuse me for not having written before but I have been under quarantine, we were told we could not write, but I see we can, so here goes.

It is not yet three weeks since I left Toronto, how long it seems though. During that time I have travelled quite a distance and have seen a great deal. One thing I noticed that surprised me, in passing through on the train to the coast, everything was green in Ontario but in Lower Quebec and New Brunswick the snow, in a great many places was still upon the ground and the air was much cooler. In passing through Quebec I noticed the French system of farms, narrow frontage and great depth but how well taken care of they were. There was hardly a broken fence and the houses were whitewashed, shed-looking places with steep roofs. Most of our trip through New Brunswick was spent going by great stretches of low ground covered with very thick woods. We arrived at Halifax about 12:30 Friday night and went on board at 3:00 O’clock Saturday afternoon. It was the Olympic and it left Halifax on May 1st and altogether we spent five and a half days on the trip across. Part of the Bn had bunks and part hammocks. I had a hammock. There was the 66th, 68th, 81st and 83rd battalions (Bn) on board and 10th Mounted Rifles, one hundred and fifty cyclists, a number of army service men, and one battery of artillerymen. Of the whole trip I was sick three days, what misery for us. I was about the worst and longest case on board. We had one death in our Bn on board at 12:30 one night. At last the coast of Ireland loomed up and we were accompanied by three destroyers till we reached the light ship in the mouth of the Mersey, took on a pilot and shortly afterward landed in Liverpool. Sunday we entrained and I saw the most picturesque bit of country I ever saw in my life – Kent, “the garden of England” it is called. Travelled through Rugby and London and arrived in West Sandling at 11:00 o’clock Sunday night. Monday morning we were inspected and it was decided that our Bn would go to the front in drafts. The machine gun section was separated and transferred to the 36th Machine Gun Brigade. But in addressing mail address it to:

#157114 Pte JG Sproule

M G S 81st Bn

Canadian Contingent


c/o Army Post Office, London

Busy, well I’ll say, they certainly rush us here. Last Thursday Pte Biggs in our tent (which holds ten men), took the measles, and of course we were quarantined for eighteen days. Imagine nine of us living in a bell tent on the ground without boards on it. Saturday it rained all day and we were flooded, blankets and equipment got wet. But what fun, I have a great time, gee it is funny to see how the men take things under trying conditions. We were to go on our six day leave but the quarantine spoiled that for us. We may or may not have our leave when we have served our term. After that we are sent away to a school of machine gunning to complete our course, after which we may be sent to France, but I don’t know.

Well I guess I will close a letter now and again will certainly be welcome. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry and Mrs. Golay, Vic and how is my little girl. Hope you are all well.

Love Joe


MG Base

36th Bn CEF

c/o Army Post Office, London

(Postmarked Sandling Camp but date is unreadable but probably June ‘16)

Dear Marie,

I received your home pocket album and letter OK. The album certainly will come in handy as I have some pictures I want to put in it.

I say Marie have you got a picture of yourself, a snap, that would go into the book. I want the pictures of the folks back home to put in it just so I can have them with me through the campaign.

It has been cool for the last couple of weeks and rainy. Say! Isn’t it miserable when it rains in this country? In Canada I didn’t mind it so much but here – ugh.

I am getting to like the army here now, at first it was rank but now, I suppose, we are getting knocked into shape by our superiors. We are taking our musketry course now and then I hope France.

I spent a very profitable time in London while I was here but was called back off pass on account of losses of the Canadians then, before my pass was up.

A party of us went to Folkstone yesterday, we had a good time and our pictures taken. Went to the Pleasure Garden Theatre and saw “The only Girl” – American play – it was pretty good.

Some of the 81st wounded are back at Shorncliffe Hospital from the trenches.

I wrote a letter to Noble asked him how he was etc. and asked him to come and visit me. How is his girl has he written anything about her lately?

How is everything back home, are you busy on cases, what is the weather like? So Pa got a car at last. I am certainly glad to hear of it. Have you been riding in it very much, how does it seem to go?

I guess I have written all I can think of. Things are about the same, nothing extraordinary.

Give my love to aunt Kate, Uncle Henry, Vicc and how is my little girl Mamie?

Love Joe


Risborough Barracks

Shorncliffe, England

July 7/16

Dear Marie,

Just a line to let you know how I am. I’m feeling “Jake” as the soldier says. I’ll bet I have increased some in weight, the life is of the best. Since leaving Sandling, we were treated as if we were humans and not machines, as the 36th seemed to think we were. The camp is higher and drier than the old camp too. We have started or rather have already done two weeks of our five weeks course in machine gunning at the school. After that we take bombing, bayonet fighting, gas helmet drill and then I expect, we will go to France. I am awfully sorry to hear that Noble is wounded but I’m certainly pleased that it isn’t serious. However I have written him two letters one to the hospital and one to the trenches – he’ll surely get one at least. Our old 81st MG officer left for France today. We had our picture all taken together with him in the centre just before he left. He asked to have all his old boys sent in a draft together. I hope he has succeeded in getting permission.

Are you getting out to Sturgeon Lake with the folks at all this summer? If you do I’ll bet you have a good time. It certainly is a fine place to spend the summer. I’m a first class shot now having 116 points out of a possible 190. I missed being a marksman by 14 points. I lost in rapid fire.

The machine gun course sure requires some mental energy to digest it. It is nothing but memory work right through. We had two fellows die recently, on got hit behind the ear with a bouncing baseball and never regained consciousness. The other died as a result of a clot of blood in the heart. He died in some agony.

I guess I have said about all I can so I guess I’ll close. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and my little girl. How is Jack the dog?

Enclosed find a picture of myself with full kit on. I look sour over something. I have just come back from the ranges that is why I look so untidy.

Love Joe

P.S. How is everything, has Hal left yet? JGS

Joe at Sandling Camp, England, July 1916

8th Brigade MG Coy

BEF, France

July 11/16

Dear Marie,

Mother and you were the bearers of such sad news. Noble is dead, even yet I can’t realize it. Why to think that my twin brothers are both killed. First Hugh then Noble. Why Marie? After Noble going through what he has and until recently not being wounded why we almost thought that he was sure of coming back alive.

They both died heroes fighting for a just cause. It seems hard that God has made it such that two young boys or rather men, should be made to die so early in life. But it is God’s decree and it is for us to bear up under what seems almost injustice in splitting up a family and home ties like that.

Marie. France is some country isn’t it, at least from what I can see of it? I don’t when I’m going up on the line. It may be soon and I have a score to settle. The Hun is the most unreliable scoundrel alive. They’d break their hearts if they played fair. You find a wounded German you treat him good. The minute your back is turned he knifes or shoots you in the back. That is why Canadians are so sore on Fritz. Many a pal has been killed that way. How is Mamie and Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry and Vic. Hoping this will find you well I remain

Your loving brother, Goldie (Joe)

P.S. I rec’d a letter from Hal. How is Jack the dog?



Jan 5/17

Dear Marie

I received your letter some time ago but I know you will pardon me for not answering it sooner. Well Marie I can’t say much about your or rather our recent sadness and misfortune. But Marie you know how I feel about it. It hits us all very hard. (Note: Marie’s brother Hall killed in action October 22, 1916.)

I thank you for your cards and letter and ghee! But it was a dandy box. Yes the box was fine, thank you. No I have never met Ted or Ralph. What Battalion or Brigade do they belong to now?

I can’t say anything unusual about myself. I’m feeling just all right. I think I’m used to conditions out here now. We all have a touch of fever then we get inured, I have had my sick spell but I hope I’m good till spring anyway. Then I hope we won’t be long in coming home. I don’t think I’m divulging anything when I say I expect big things in the spring. So far things have been running smoothly but you know there is often a storm cloud in a clear sky, and sometimes we get wet. Get me Marie?

I was picking buttercups and dandelions the other day. Think of it, flowers in January. We have not very much rain so far. I have a new job now I’m not on a gun crew. I’m a dispatch runner. Take dispatches and wires to different headquarters in the trenches. It’s all right when things are quiet but it’s going to be some hot job when things are going on, when trenches are blown in and you have to take to the open. Take it from me Marie I can give him a run for his money. There is always one consolation. No matter how hard Fritzy is pounding us, no matter how many casualties we have you may be sure that Deutcher has it ten times greater. For every shell he puts over, we put over ten. We’ve got him skinned alive now ever since last July last year we’ve had it over him in ammunition and planes. It’s a case now of “sock it to him Kelly.” I could tell you a whole lot about it but I don’t want to get pinched.

How is everything in Toronto? I received a nice letter from Mrs. Ross recently. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and my “sweety heart”, and Jack.

Love Joe



Feb 5/17

Dear Marie,

Rec’d your letter of December 29/16 the other day or to be exact 4 days ago. The reason of the delay was that I was away on a course back of the line and my mail piled up awaiting my return. On Christmas and New Years I spent well – a fairly good time in the trenches, considering that the dugout roof leaked and the mud was deep.

So the kiddie had lots of dolls – her children eh! The Mother instinct is present in the youngest girls isn’t it? I’m glad the kiddie had a good time. Doesn’t it do a person good to see children happy and contented, quite oblivious to sorrow and strife around them. I guess by the time Vic and “sweetheart” will be home from Montreal. I hope they had a good time, but somehow Montreal is no place for kiddies is it Marie? Mamie was all right I hope.

I suppose you know that I’m not a gunner now but a runner. Despatch runner, it is a much better job, for our M.G. Coy. Everything is running pretty smoothly. According to the papers, the Germans are disregarding at least are very impertinent to neutrals. That is a good sign that shows that they’ve come to the defiance stage of the war, they know they are licked and have got their backs up against the wall.

While on this course I had my picture taken, enclosed find one. What do you think of it. I had it taken to show that I wasn’t quite old and grey. It looks just about the same as when I went away doesn’t it?

Well Marie I’ll close. Give my love to Aunt Kate, Uncle Henry and Vic, (to Sweety Heart xxxx+). Have you got a picture of the kid Marie?

Love Joe



March 16/17

Dear Marie,

Hurrah tomorrow is the seventeenth of old Ireland. If I’ve got something green to wear I’ll wear it, even if it’s a bit of moss.

I received your most welcome box last night. We sure did appreciate it. I sat on the bed in the billet and opened the box. We are going to have a feed (six of us) tonight: coffee, canned chicken, salmon and sardines, bread and butter and Christmas cake (special extra). Six of us live in a little 2 x 4 room in a barn. It’s cosy and warm, lots of straw ( and mice and lice). But we should worry eh Marie? Let me thank you for the box Marie. I certainly do appreciate it. It was certainly a “peacherino”.

How are you getting on, how is Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and the kiddie? I hope you are all well. I wonder it Toronto has changed much. It seems a long time ago since I left it.

I am quite well, still “Jake”. Winter is over and spring has set in but with the coming of spring there usually comes hard work, longer days, less sleep. Oh well the sooner it is over and done with the better.

Is the Bloor St. viaduct finished yet? Any good shows on recently? Things are looking favourable for the allies these days. I suppose the U.S. will enter the war soon.

Well to get down to little intimate conversation. As I said before, “with the coming of spring come the days of real warfare”. Some of these fine spring days there will be an increase in casualties of Canadians no doubt. If that is the case why it’s a case of real scrapping for us. In case anything happens Marie just smooth things out for mother will you. I have written a letter explaining things to dad. Don’t let this scare you because I’m just as safe as the rest of us and don’t think it will last long once it has started. If I go under, I’m prepared God’s will be done. If I don’t meet you all at home, I’ll meet you at the great rendezvous.

Give my love to all. Lots of kisses to “Sweety Heart.”

Love Joe


A post card photo of Joe in France, before Vimy, March 1917


May 1917 (actual date censored)

Dear Marie,

Received you letter with the kiddies photo in it and the Easter card from Aunt Kate. I sure did appreciate them all. Isn’t the kiddie growing up it looks like Hal sure. It certainly is a good picture of her. The night before last I received a letter from you. Well Marie. Ghee but it was a fine scrap (Note: talking about the Battle of Vimy Ridge) and it seems funny walking over the ground that was German ground a short time ago and looking over the ridge and seeing for the first time miles back over the captured ground. I am thinking that the war will soon be over. It is peculiar when a fellow is up on the line, he thinks the war is never going to end. When they are relieved and as fast as they march away from the trenches, so his spirits rise and by the time he arrives at billets he is positive that the war will be over someday soon. I have received two letters from Mrs. Ross – enclosed in one was a note from Elsie. Thank them for me.

So you are calling the kiddie Hallie, that’s fine. I like that name after her daddy. Wasn’t that a rotten picture that last one that I sent.

Thanks awfully Marie, I knew you would help make things easier for mother in case anything should happen. So the boys are still notorious in Toronto. Well I don’t blame them although they get worked up very easily. No Marie I’m not overly fluent in French that is grammatically speaking. Tres bon a box eh Marie. Whenever you send a box will you put lots of eats in it. Pardon me for saying this, I like so much to eat stuff from home. We don’t get much dainties out here.

Yes that sure was a scrap we gave it to him for fair and we still have him on the go. What do you think of the German attitude and the Russians just now?

Well Marie, here I am back of the line about ten miles taking a five week course on signalling. I suspect I will be made a signaller when I return to my unit. Well I guess I’ll close, give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry,Vic and my Sweety Heart.

Love Joe



June 10/17

Dear Marie

Just a line to say that everything is OK. Tres bon in fact. We are having warm sunshiny days and fairly busy too.

I am back off the signalling course and am a signaller now in our unit. I’ve changed some eh Marie. Well Marie there is nothing to say so I’ll ask a few questions. How’s the kiddy keeping and Aunt Kate, Uncle Henry, Vic and everybody? Are you busy nursing these days? Do you get out in the car much? How are things going on down our way? Say Marie that was a peach of a picture of the kiddy wasn’t it. Suppose the girlie will be grown so I will hardly know her when I come back. Tell her I’m still her Sweety Heart. And the dog is it still her guardian? Thank you very much for the birthday card and letter. So I’m twenty years of age. Getting old but well being.

They sure are looking after returned soldiers well in Toronto aren’t they. I’m looking forward to your birthday box to me and thank you for the bundle of papers.

Marie could you get a small pocket English French dictionary – you know best what kind to get. One with sentences, phrases in it. I’m reading one of Henry Drummond’s works, “The Habitant”, French-Canadian dialect poems. Have you read any of his works?

They were very nice words on that birthday card. Well Marie I’ll close. Give my love to Auntie Kate and Uncle Henry, “My Kiddy” and Vic.

Lots of Love

Bro. Joe

Joe in France, June 1917 at his 20th birthday


June 27/17

Dear Marie:

Received your letter OK. Was certainly glad to hear from you. Oh yes I’m just feeling great. Feeling better than I have ever felt before. You should see me. I’m a little bit bigger and have filled out more. I’m back to short trousers (I cut my slacks off at the knees). I’m as tanned as an Indian ghee but its good to be alive. I came back off that five weeks course as fat as butter.

Pardon my scribble I’m sitting on the steps of the dugout and writing this. Well I suppose we’ll soon have our next door neighbours out here (Americans) coming to finish the war for us, and to show us a thing or two in the line of fighting. But I shouldn’t be sarcastic should I? It will be a Godsend, they will do a lot of good. Things are going on famously these glorious days of summer. Sometimes time hangs heavy and mostly –”presto” – and a month has flashed past in no time. I think we’ll soon be able to part for home – we all hope so at any rate.

I’m in the Signallers now which is much better and at the same time you are learning something.

That birthday box sure went “bon”, Sis. Thank you all so much. This letter will not be long because it is five to six now and I want to get it censored and out with the ration limbers tonight.

I hope by this time conscription has passed the House. Has it Marie? I can’t see why the French Canadians are so backward in joining up. Those of them that have come out have made a name for themselves and are splendid fighters. But I suppose it is religion that is the cause.

I’m so glad and thankful that you have given those flowers to mother on “Mother’s Sunday” from me. It will please mother so. I attended a service on Mother’s Sunday (which was held over here too) in a YMCA in a village back of the line. I sure thought of mother and not being able to get her flowers this year. Well Marie I’ll close. How is my little “Sweety Heart” Isn’t the kiddie growing though. Give my love to all. I remain yours with love.

Bro. Joe



July 15/17

Dear Marie

I thank you for the box you sent to me. It sure was tres bon. So the other night or rather very early morning when on duty, I dug into the cake and marmalade and the corporal and I polished it off between us.

Well Marie! How are things these days? I believe conscription was finally passed was it not? How is Quebec taking it? I’m glad of it believe me.

I hope my little kiddie is all right. I’ll bet she’s becoming quite a big girl isn’t she? Ghee! I wish I was home Marie but I think it will be over soon, don’t you? And then-oh-then, you’ll see me coming head on a mile per in my effort to get to the land of the “setting sun.” Some day those “bone heads” will realize they are licked, but until then we’ll have to scrap, scrap and then some, to convince them.

I suppose the traffic is going over the viaduct now and the union station how is it beginning to look. Three more days and I will have been out here a year and getting on two since I enlisted. Time flies doesn’t it?

Are you nursing at the hospital yet? I suppose you are pretty busy. Well Marie I can hardly find anything to say. So I’ll close. How is Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and Kiddie and oh yes the dog? Give my love to all.

Love, Joe



August 1917

Dear Marie;

Received your letter of July 12/17 on Aug 6/17. Pretty near as long in coming as mine to you. The mail has recently been very irregular in delivery. Due I think to the enormous amount of munitions and food which come before anything else.

Thank you so much for troubling to get me an English-French dictionary, if possible I want to make myself understood when conversing with the people and as you know French I thought that you would know what I need, that is why I asked you Marie.

I sure have a soft spot in my heart for my little “Sweet Heart” right from the first time I met the kiddy. She is my little girl.

That picture you received from me makes me out to be thin, but in reality I am fuller and heavier than I have ever been. Yes I suppose I have changed a little, I have been in France nearly thirteen months and the wear and tear of life out here is bound to make a change, (in my case for the better). What surprises me Marie is that big strapping men, regular perfect specimens of physical manhood often times go to pieces, fall sick and sometimes die from the same things that I’m putting up with. Here am I and others thriving and growing out here while others pine away and eventually become unfit for Service. This shows that you can’t tell by looking at the man, circumstances prove it to be so. Peculiar isn’t it? The only wrong with me is catarrah which is common out here.

I was out for a walk through the country today with my friend Frank and as we were walking along we began discussing and looking back to our life in barracks which naturally enough led to our menu at the exhibition. We used to enter complaints against our diet when back there but when I think of what we are eating now and think of the really substantial meals at barracks at home. I think how foolish we were. Why in Canada for our midday meal we received roast beef or fish steaks, potatoes, corn or peas, tea or coffee, soup or gravy. Something along those lines and jam or cake and mind you we complained. If I was back there now I’d eat bacon and beans and not kick if I ate them for the duration. However I’m grousing which I don’t usually do.

So you have a garden in your backyard, lots of vegetables. I used to be persnickity about raw tomatoes but I’m not much anymore. I’d sure make a pig of myself if I had a basketful in front of me now. We can get tomatoes out here, it cost about 1 franc for about four tomatoes. We only get 15 francs every two weeks, prices are high and the majority of us, two or three days after pay, are financially embarrassed. A lot of the boys inhabit the estaminets (note: restaurants) and I bet the French people that run them don’t want the war to end. They are making a fortune out of the troops.

I do so hope Eleanor has a good time. I certainly like Eleanor don’t you and I’m glad that she is stopping at home with dad and mother because it will make it brighter at home for them. What do you know about it, so the street railway has struck for higher wages. Do you think they were justified in striking or were they wrong?

I think at the outside that if (the war) will be over sometime next spring, I thoroughly believe we’ll have to put another winter in to convince the Germans they have played their last card.

It has been raining and raining off and on for about two weeks hampering operations somewhat. However it appears to be clearing up and getting hot again which I can put up with fine.

How is Mrs. Ross and Elsie keeping, remember me to them. I’ll close. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and my kiddy. How’s the dog keeping too?

Love Joe

157114 Pte JG Sproule

8th Cdn MG Coy

BEF, France

P.S. By the way I’m going on leave to Paris in a few weeks time. That will be fine, 10 days leave in 13 months, its due me isn’t it? Joe

French poppies pressed into a letter to Marie, August 1917

(Note: post card)



Dear Marie;

Well Marie, this is the life, am in Paris on a pass. Someplace, sometime and beaucoup l’argent. I must behave myself eh sis. Having good time.




Sept 17/17

Dear Marie

No don’t think that I have forgotten you, I haven’t. I just have had no ambition to write anybody. Ever since coming back off pass I somehow can’t settle down to anything. If I start reading, I throw it down disconsolately and if I sit down I mope. Just impatient that’s all.

Yes I have visited Paris. Some place Marie isn’t it the most beautiful place you have ever seen. What did you think of it when you were there? Paris beats them all doesn’t it? A city with so many boulevards, parks, gardens, building etc.

Well we hit Paris on the night of 21st August/17. Getting into the Gare du Nord about 9:30 and stepped off the train and for the first time in nearly fourteen months, saw real citified people, both men and women.

We met a Canadian who took us to the Hotel des deux Gare on rue Fanburg. St. Denis not a minutes walk from the station. The street wasn’t up to much, but the room in the hotel was fine at six francs per night. Well I was to the garden at Versailles, Bois de Bologne, the zoo, Eiffel Tower. Riding around in taxis, theatres, dining around at a few hotels although we had a regular restaurant. Say isn’t Paris a hard place to get a drink of tea. Vin rouge is predominant. I asked for coffee in one place and they brought me rum and coffee. After I asked for coffee without rum. With the aid of a few French words I got on fine. On the whole I spent ten days of real life after fourteen months of existence. “When in Rome do as the Romans do” and we did.

Here I am back up the line as usual, waiting another pass which I may see or may not. However such is life eh. I saw a few “Sammies” (Note: Americans) when down in Paris – quite a smart uniform isn’t it.

Quite a problem in Russia at the present. If Kerensky doesn’t get done in, I think he will save Russia. You never can tell though. Things are humming up here yet, he still has quite a kick left in him (Fritz). I’m still at it. I’m wondering whether I’ll have a try at the flying corps with the view of a commission, what do you think about it? I wonder if I have enough brains to take a commission, think so?

How is my “sweety heart” and Aunt Kate, Vic, Uncle Henry and are you well and still busy. Give my love to all the folks.

I’ll close

Love Joe



Dec 8, 1917

Dear Marie;

Oh it’s ages and ages ago since I wrote to you Marie, I know. But the fact is I have had such little chance to write anybody at all, this fall.

You have read in the papers about our “doings” up north. I am glad to say I came through all right, although a lot of boys got “blighties.” Jimmy my corporal was killed, one of the best fellows I have met since being in the army. One of those cheerful chaps who you would think was meant to come through this scrap alive. One can never tell.

Well Marie I’ve been out here nearly a year and a half and over two years in khaki. Not a wound so far, most of the pals I came with are gone, some killed’ others wounded or sick. And I have never felt better, I’ve lost my appetite and taken on a horses appetite. I’m sure some hearty eater and if that is a good sign you can bank on me. I’m like Oliver Twist, I stick around the cooks for any second helpings. It’s really funny, you go through some really hot places after coming out, you look at yourself expecting to find yourself grey-headed and hollow cheeked but no. With the aid of some soap and water, a razor, or a real good hot bath and a shave you feel as if you are treading on air. The horrors quickly fade away and you are yourself again.

I received the box from you Marie OK. I thank you very much for it. I received it when we were staying at a chateau. A magnificent place which was vacated by the mademoiselle who went to a convent. Some trouble or other, Monsieur he went to the war and I suppose was killed. The last thing left of value was a series of panel paintings, which one of the boys peeled the canvasses off and I suppose are on their way to Canada by this time.

It’s getting on to Christmas pretty quickly. It will be my second in France. I hope it is the last I spend in France on active service. But as the boys say, I’m game whatever the outcome is. I hope the Good God will bring this struggle to a speedy close for we are a strong advocate for peace. Peace of the right sort, not Prussian peace nor party peace but universal peace both to enemy and allies.

I suppose I appear blue but I’m not at all, just stating the facts.

I’ll close Marie. I have to go to supper or I’ll be too late to get anything. Give my love to all the folks. Remember me to “sweety heart.”

Love Joe

P.S. Met a man of 1st contingent who was 3rd Bn. He was on the same gun crew with Noble, he was telling me some tales he and Noble were in. He said Nobel was one of the coolest and bravest men he had ever met. They were great pals. He didn’t know at the time he was my brother until I told him. He was down at the base wounded when Noble was killed. JGS

Embroidered Christmas greetings 1917- the small card fits under the above scene

Christmas card says: Just a remembrance to let you know I’m thinking of you. Marie dear this is all I have to remember you and others by this year. But it bears best wishes for you all. Joe


Dec 18/17

Dear Marie;

Just a line to say that I’m feeling “fine as silk” in other words OK. I’m hastily scribbling these few lines because I won’t (after today) be able to write for some time. So take time to scribble a note so that you won’t think that anything has happened to me.

Well Marie, winter has set in. Just at present its good and cold which is 50% better than mud and wet. Eight days to Christmas which for a second time I’ll spend in the trenches.

How are little Mamie and Aunt Kate, Vic and Uncle Henry. Give my love and best wishes to them all please. Pardon my abrupt note. I’ll close

Love Joe

P.S. Enclosed find a photo card of the bunch. JGS



Dear Marie;

Just a line to let you know that I am well. I will not endeavour to write a long letter because I am waiting for a shave at a coiffeur. It is a combination estaminet and coiffeur. It is Saturday night, a cold and snowy night too. The Frenchmen are all dolled up in their best bib and tucker and are congregated here to talk and drink beer. “Madame Jr.” is sitting by the stove putting some fancywork on a baby’s bonnet. Stan Jennings (you remember him? He used to live farther along the street on the opposite side.) He is writing a letter on my left and Finch is writing on my right.

Well I’ll start again. I have just had a shave and a shampoo. You will wonder where I am. Oh I’m on course in Signalling back of the line. It is very interesting.

I received your boxes before I came away. I gave one to Will Stevens. He asked me to thank you for him. We both appreciate them very much.

I’m going on leave again sometime soon. Steve and I are going together to Aberdeen. We have place to go to, a sister of one of the boys lives there.

Well Marie it is a minute or two to eight o’clock. Soldiers have to clear out of places where booze is sold by eight o’clock at night. So I’ll close.

Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry.

Love Joe




Dear Marie;

I suppose you have wondered what is happening to me because I haven’t written for so long. But it has been rather hard trying to write these days. However the fire in the brazier is burning cheerily, the approximate time I should judge to be around midnight. Although the cellar is a bit smoky due to the bad draft and my eyes are smarting from the dusty atmosphere I will write.

There is the faintest smell of juicy ripe pineapple in the air. Oh so nice to smell but when taken in quantities how annoying and hard on the eyes. Fritz again eh! We are having lovely weather. The violets, dandelions and trees are in bloom. The green of the bushes and garden (what remains of a garden of 4 years ago) only tends to heighten the colour of the few remaining red tiles on the wrecked roofs or the bricks of the stark walls. Nothing but a shambles now.

It is a day later, I could not go on with the letter. It is a bright sunshiny morning cool (with the exception of a few of our heavies soaring overhead on their journey of destruction) everything is quiet.

How am I? Oh fine. With the coming of spring I feel more buoyant, more cheerful.

I’ll be home sometime next year I think. It is the beginning of the end, don’t become pessimistic. If a person looked at the papers nowadays he would surely be inclined to feel blue. But take it from me the year is early yet. I can’t say anymore.

Have Vic and Mamie come back from Ottawa yet. I hope so. How is kiddy getting on, growing up I guess. Will you give me the address of Vic. I’ll drop a line. How is Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry. Is the grass green at home and the trees budding yet, has the robin come round this year yet? How I long to see all the folks at home and to walk Toronto streets, to go to the theatre and see a good play and listen to an orchestra. To eat food not cooked in gasoline tins and daintiness not seen in the trenches. When we get steak (oh yes occasionally) we usually pick it up in our fingers (it’s the easiest and most comfortable way). Oh to be able to sleep in a bed with a good thick mattress on it instead of old mother earth or chicken wire. To feel good underwear or a suit of up to date civies (blue serge- something dark preferably), low shoes, silk or cashmere hose, a flashy tie and a straw lid on. Above all I can picture a white enamel bathtub and hot and cold water (at your leisure). Oh! To feel thoroughly clean from the ground up.

What does slices bananas and cream taste like. Oh! I’ll have to shut up my mouth feels like a watermelon (lots of juice) at the mere thought of such delicacies.

I’d like to go out and meet some of the girls (I knew a few) and to walk down the street with one with pink hair ribbons on, a middy on with a big (oh yes pink ribbon also) under the collar and a big bow in front. A girl that can play, laugh, tease, you know (one of those adorable girls).

Write me a big long letter about home and everybody and “what’s doin”- theatres, boats, green grass and trees, girls and lots of things. I’m just crazy to be home but still the spirit of the troops is still excellent. Do you see any of my old boy friends, I don’t hear from them very much. Will Logan drops a letter once in a while. If I was home just now and it was one of those tantalizing warm spring days and I was going to school, I would just be in the mood to play hooky and amble downtown and spend my time looking in the shop windows or in Eaton’s and Simpson’s. Spend a dime or so on chocolates and go to some movie show, get home in time for supper and after supper meet the bunch and go off somewhere.

I’ll conclude. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry and “Sweety Heart”.

Love Joe



Signaller Joe G. Sproule

HQ, 3rd Cdn MG Bn

BEF, France

(New address)

(Note: On May 24th, May 28th and June 14th, Joe sent ” whizbangs” to Marie. These were Field Service Post Cards with a series of check-off statements such as: “I am quite well,” or another “I have been admitted into hospital,” and another, ” I have received your, letter dated, telegram, parcel,” and finally, “Letter follows at first opportunity.”)

Sample of a “whizbang” June 1918




Dear Marie;

That notable day has come and gone. They say a man becomes of age on his 21st birthday, in other words a man. As far as I know I’m still as I used to be I don’t notice any change in myself nor any elation over the fact.

Another surprising thing is that I have spent my last three birthdays away from home. From eighteenth to twenty-one is quite a jump isn’t it.

I thank you for your kind birthday wishes Marie very much. It was very cheering to me to receive letters of remembrance.

So Dad received another parcel of Noble’s things, what a long time to receive them after his death. Did we ever receive anything of Hugh’s personal effects?

You ask me about my new work! I’m still signalling, just about the same as I was before; we are in a new formation now. I’m in charge of a battery signal station, (four of us). Well what do you know about it. So Bill has given his girl a diamond ring. I’m not surprised at all. According to his letters she is just about perfect. He thinks a lot of her.

I’m glad that John Maguire is getting a spell of army experience in Canada because the ideas and opinions a young fellow gets in the army are more liable to be a help than a harm when learning army discipline and routine when he is under the good influence of friends. You understand what I mean. If it wasn’t for the fact that I spent six months training in Canada and still being under the influence of Dad, Mother and friends and becoming somewhat set in my ideas of things I don’t know what kind of a person I might have been by now. As it is there’s all kinds of room for improvement in me. Corporal Sinton, Ollie’s friend, is back in “Blighty,” wounded eh?

It seems to me Marie that I wrote an acknowledgement to Mrs. Ross for a box which I received last spring (early). I’m not certain but I believe I did. If not, I wrote her a letter sometime ago.

As regards myself. I’m fine, couldn’t be better. Lots of exercise and out of doors practically all the time. I’m as dark as an Indian. Somehow I can’t find much to say Marie. My streak of newsiness are few and far between. You’ll forgive me this time will you? Give my love to Aunt Kate, Uncle Henry and I thank them for their kind remembrances. I’ll close.

Love Joe

Canada’s famous contribution to Remembrance ripped from an Army newspaper and sent home to Marie

June 1918

Joe at 21, June 4, 1918



Dear Marie;

First of all I want to thank you for the box which I received a couple of days ago. It was the first box I received for a long time and you may be sure was enjoyed by us very much. Maybe we didn’t dig into it too, we were up the line and as you know that is the best place to receive parcels. Parcel mail has been irregular in delivery. It was something like two weeks after my birthday that my birthday boxes began to arrive. Many that were sent have not yet arrived.

The last couple of days have been wet days. Previously we have had ideal weather. Hot dayss with white hot sun beating down; some remarked about the heat. For my part I’d rather perspire than shiver. I’ve had enough of this teeth chattering business to make me appreciate the sun. Old Sol! Hs only made me keel over once and that was after joining up on my first route march from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston Heights. The long upgrade to the heights caved me in (I fainted). The only time I ever fainted in my life. But I could march it a dozen times over, full pack under the hottest of suns now. I never once failed to walk the whole distance of a march in the three years I’ve been in the army. That’s something isn’t it.

Well Marie my letter shows that I am enjoying the best of health. We have enjoyed a good spell out of the line, lots of vigorous exercise and rigid training this summer. On the whole the best summer I have spent in this country so far.

Another breath or two of warm air and the summer will be over. We will feel the damp chill laden breezes from the north creeping down on us. Then another winter of rain and mud to be borne cheerfully and optimistically. I wonder if this body of mine can hold out thru another winter. I didn’t take last winter as well as the winter before. However with such a good summer as this I ought to be fit for anything.

Still busy Marie? How’s Aunt Kate’s chickens and garden making out. Are Mamie and Vic up yet from Ottawa? Will you give me Vic’s address please? I haven’t heard about Harv – has he been exempted? Or Russell? (Note: Harvey and Russell Harris were cousins)

Well Marie I have put on the water to boil. I think it must be about ready to drop the tea into it. I must get busy preparing dinner at 1:30 PM for the five of us. Give my love to Auntie Kate and Uncle Henry.

Love Joe


My job is just about the same as it was before only we are in a new organization. JGS

A wild rose pressed and enclosed in a letter home, July 1918



To: Nursing sister Marie. Joe’s epistle to the Golays

From: One of Foch’s pets. (Note: Marshall Foch, was the French Allied Commander in Chief)

Dear Marie

It’s such a long time since I wrote to you isn’t it Sis. Fact is we have been so busy; as the papers are telling you no doubt. I have been l have been letting my letters to Mother and Dad do for all the folks. I will answer your letter of July 8/18.

Much as the field cards are a soldier’s excuse for a letter, they are a means of letting the folks know that all is well when he is busy scrapping and has no time to write a letter. That is why I sent them to you Marie.

I thank you for your snaps very much of you in uniform too. Did you go to Oshawa for a vacation? You and Olive went somewhere didn’t you? Did you take any snaps? If so you know where to send some to.

Say Sis. Don’t you go learning to drive that car too fast now, give me a chance, don’t forget. You say that in a year’s time you will be able to drive it; are you sure you won’t need a post graduate course in driving after that. Maybe by then I’ll be there to learn with you. I bet you enjoyed a pleasant trip in the motor to Cobourg with those people. A sight of the dear old home at Cobourg would certainly make you homesick. Didn’t Aunt Kate enjoy it especially at Cobourg? I think she did. Aunt Kate is always bright and cheerful though isn’t she?

I thank you so much for the box Marie. I got it during one of the busy spells. It certainly was welcome. During pushes one seldom gets mail regular. However your box came. I need a pair of socks bad. Those were a godsend and the eats – why – say Marie – I’ll tell you how much we enjoyed them if you send another box sometime. There’s a bargain now. So Irving Perry (cousin) is married too. Huh! And Harvey Harris (another cousin) has he got further exemption; no I don’t understand him either.

Say Marie will you give me Vic’s address. I want to write her about the kid. I like the kid an awful lot. As a rule, I’m a poor one with youngsters but I’m awfully fond of Mamie. So please give me the address. How are the chicks and “ens” getting along, are they laying still?

About myself, I can’t say anything new I’m still OK, feeling fine as silk. They (shrapnel) are still missing me. I guess the Bosch don’t know I’m out here yet. Many a time I thought a shell coming my way had my number on it but somehow 157114 is still slipping between or ducking those chunks of hot iron. But I’d better not boast eh.

I’m with Division now, signalling – its very interesting work, on switchboards you know. I’m what you might call a “central.” Well Marie, give my love to your Mother and Dad. I’ll close.

Love Bro. Joe

Hugs and XXXXXX – (barbwire entanglements)

P.S. I hope you’ll pardon this really excellent example of penmanship.


Dear Marie

Well I’m on leave at last. Am having a swell time. Am stopping with friends.

Love Joe

Another post card from Liverpool postmarked Oct 18, 1918

Dear Marie.

This is where I am spending my leave just across from Liverpool.


P.S. Having a dandy time


The image on one of the above post cards, October 1918

Mons, Belgium

November 1918

Dear Marie;

Just a line to let you know that everything is OK. Well the war is over eh! Gee I can hardly realize it you know. We are living in Mons, it is quite a beautiful town and shows practically nothing of the ravages of war. This is the town where the British first came in touch with the Bosch in ’14 and were forced back to a line outside of Arras. It was known as “The Retreat from Mons” in ’14. It was the British Regulars who lost it in ’14 and the Cdn 3rd Division who took it back in ’18. A feather in the cap of the 3rd “Cans” eh! On the same morning that the town of Mons was taken the Armistice was signed. At 11AM on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918. Quite easy history to remember eh! Excuse the style of handwriting, I have borrowed another pen, mine has gone dry.

It is rumoured that we go to Koblenz or some Rhine town. What the Sam Hill do we want to go there for? The sooner I can put on a boiled shirt and starched collar and suit of civvies the better. Now that guerre is finished the Army holds no interest to me. When it was on I was always game to sticking right with it. I reckon I’ve done my share. And now that is it and I want to go home. The sooner I can quit polishing buttons and drilling the better. Oh well I suppose I’ll be back for spring planting. I can tell you I’d like to feel Yonge Street under my feet. Say when I get home I’ll take to Toronto like a duck to water.

The other day a Frenchman gave me a copy of a write up about the 3rd Cans, “Foch’s Pets,” that was posted up in the streets of Mons after the boys took the town. I would like to keep it Marie, its in French. I’ll send it to you; will you keep it for me Marie? They are hard to get; if I succeed in getting another you may have this one. Also a carbon copy of the original wireless message which notified us that things would quit at 11/11/18. It is another souvenir I would like to keep. Well Marie, I’ll close.

Give my love to Auntie Kate, Uncle Henry and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Love Joe

P.S. My address is the MG address as of old. Joe

Christmas greetings, 1918

(Note: Following is from a post card.)

Mons, Belgium


Dear Marie

Ever been in this place of Mons. Pretty nice burg. I’m having a pretty good time but am crazy to get home as quick as they can send me.

Love Joe


Mons, Belgium


Dear Marie,

Just a few lines to say that I am OK as usual which is not important is it to write down. The main thing is that I’m enclosing a photo of yours truly which I had taken while on leave.

I have shaved my moustache off you can see. I’m attempting to grow another one though. Yes! I didn’t want to look like a half-baked savage, so I shed my fur for the occasion.

Another very important thing is I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I only wish that I could be able to share in the joys at home with you all. But that is impossible. So I must be content. In any case I suppose we’ll be home in three or four months. Just in time for a summer vacation eh!

Well I’ve finished with what I have to say. I’ll leave you in peace eh Sis. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry.

Much love, Bro Joe

Joe without his fur vest, December 1918

Joe with his fur vest, December 1918

Bramshott Camp



Dear Marie;

Just a line. Am leaving England for Canada on Monday. On board the Olympic. Hurrah, five thousand going home, in 1916 we had seven thou’ five hundred on board.

Today I’ve been bathed, steamed, disinfected and fumigated our clothes. I feel like a rag. The best bath I ever had in my life. There’s no such thing as dirt on me. They shot steam and anti-flu dope through a high power jet at us in a closed room. So guess I’m eligible for Canada now.

Love to all

Lots O’love Bro Joe

P.S. Sincerely hope you have recovered from the effects of the flu. JGS

(Note: I hope this will be an important addition to the Joseph Sproule family record. David Sproule, completed January/February 2007).


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A series of short videos on life of the soldier

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WW1 Summer Activities

Anyone have any stories to share?

Send them to the blog direct

if you need help email

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Technical puzzle – any Word Press operators out there? The site has some sort of immediate update glitch. Once a new item is added it locks me out – however – for this post I am posting through WordPress

Ideas welcome

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Navigating the Western Front Today British Library Trench Maps in Google Earth

27 June 2016

By Hack-Wheeze


It’s almost time to plan your attack on the Western Front. Your trip will take you through pleasant places that sell strangely interesting drinks and cakes.  If you want to experience the sound of a Whizz-bang in your head – just have a few pleasant drinks and you will hear the barrage coming down at 0 dark 30 when the concierge says “M’Sir, Herr Oberst Kerr wants to speak with you.”

Many people with an interest in the Western Front and Canada’s experiences there from late 1914 to November 1918 may feel stymied by a lack of detailed maps portraying, a hundred years of publishing has produced a galaxy of WW1 accounts. With GPS coming to the consumer over the last twenty years – where did Great Uncle Bob serve on the Western Front? If he died, where was the last place he was seen alive? This yawning gap remains across the realm of the professional historians but we fill it for you using Liddell Hart’s “Indirect Approach.” If you’ve read our post called “Where is There?” about the locations of Canadians at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle in March 1915 or “The 2nd Battle of Ypres” we have introduced a method of tracing the movement of Canadian troops through the now peaceful battlefields of a hundred years ago.

We prefer a picnic lunch from the hood of a Vauxhall D Type WW1 Staff Car. But all that is if your trip is funded by a wealthy aunt.  We of the unwashed, typically subsist off Iron Rations.

Your trip starts with planning. First you need a map reference. These are commonly seen in the WW1 War Diaries from the National Archives in Ottawa. They will look like this as shown in the McMaster University Trench Maps Archive.

We recently became aware of high level maps of WW1 Battle Areas that are linked to Google Earth. These maps are from the British Library. Once you know the map reference – you can open the base map of the Ypres Battle Area and then look in the right hand upper area to open the KML file for Google Earth.

Your location of interest is for example, the St Eloi Cross Roads south of Ypres. This was discussed briefly in our article on Major Cy North who set off a major mine there on June 7, 1917.

Going back to your open Google Earth window – you see the map reference is approximately 28 O.2.A.9.0 (refer to the McMaster reference above), which kicks out in latitude and Longitude as  50°48’38.14″N,  2°53’28.51″E.

The Passchendale Church will be about 28 D.6.D.4.6 or  50°54’1.01″N, 3° 1’14.65″E


High Level Map Plan for Ypres area

If you get lost as you search for these two sites – just flag down a Sopwith Camel and once you are up at a good altitude out of Archy Range (Anti Aircraft Guns) – look for the image below. Click it and pop up the map – you will see St Eloi X Roads a bit S from Ypres and Passchendale Church in the upper right of the map.

The memorial date is fast coming up for the July 1 Somme Battle where so many of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment served. Here is the link to that battle map from the British Library. You will want to start your attack from St John’s Road which is in the middle of the left side of the map and runs roughly upper left to lower right.

The British Library Maps link is here – perhaps you can cruise the library searching for “trench maps” and find an interesting WWI map with a Canadian link. Just send it along to us at and we’ll put it on line.

Clear as mud old chap ?

Questions in 2 minutes.


Beamont Hamel attack area July 1 1916

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Modern Map of Vimy Ridge Attack info for you


Map pops up to large size


WW1 Version April 24 1917

VIMY OLD TRACE 02 MAY 2016 point 1

Vimy Battle Area as of 24 April 1917

See the Vimy Battle Field on Google Earth (zip file)




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The Men of Newcastle

This gallery contains 4 photos.

These images are of stone memorial tablets just inside the Newcastle Memorial Hall This post remembers them – just click any image    

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