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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
A series of short videos on life of the soldier with BBC presenter Dan Snow. Continue reading
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.” Continue reading
See a new, modern map of the Vimy Ridge Attack as well as contemporary versions. Continue reading
This gallery contains 4 photos.
Images of the stone memorial tablets just inside the Newcastle Memorial Hall remembering the men of the town who served.
How a French teen found a link to Canadians who fought in his town
Many of you know about Bob Richardon`s Blog and his efforts to find and document the final resting spot of a World War One soldier and Cree native, Private Bertie Nackogie #1006931. The link to his blog is found below.
Bertie was an aboriginal who joined the 228th (Northern Fusiliers) Battalion in July 20,1916 in Moose Factory, Ontario. He gave his occupation as “Guide and Hunter”, age 34 and next of kin as Annie Sedlion of Moose Factory. The soldier did not get a chance to go with the 228th Battalion overseas as he succumbed to pneumonia in Base Hospital, Toronto dying December 26, 1916. His obituary from the Toronto Star was found by Bob`s friend Marika Pirie in the Toronto Star archives and sent in to Veterans Affairs Canada for his online memorial page at the Virtual War Memorial run by Veterans Affairs.
For the past 95 years his place of rest was officially considered unknown. He was in Prospect Cemetery, Toronto in an unmarked grave.
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
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
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.
36th Bn CEF
c/o Army Post Office, London
(Postmarked Sandling Camp but date is unreadable but probably June ‘16)
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?
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.
P.S. How is everything, has Hal left yet? JGS
Joe at Sandling Camp, England, July 1916
8th Brigade MG Coy
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?
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.
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?
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.”
A post card photo of Joe in France, before Vimy, March 1917
May 1917 (actual date censored)
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.
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
Joe in France, June 1917 at his 20th birthday
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.
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.
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?
157114 Pte JG Sproule
8th Cdn MG Coy
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)
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.
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.
Dec 8, 1917
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.”
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
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
P.S. Enclosed find a photo card of the bunch. JGS
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.
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”.
Signaller Joe G. Sproule
HQ, 3rd Cdn MG Bn
(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
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.
Canada’s famous contribution to Remembrance ripped from an Army newspaper and sent home to Marie
Joe at 21, June 4, 1918
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.
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)
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.
Well I’m on leave at last. Am having a swell time. Am stopping with friends.
Another post card from Liverpool postmarked Oct 18, 1918
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
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.
P.S. My address is the MG address as of old. Joe
Christmas greetings, 1918
(Note: Following is from a post card.)
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.
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
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).
An Address delivered by Gordon MacKinnon at the Church of the Transfiguration
Manor Road East, Toronto, on 6 November 2005.
Veterans Affairs Canada has declared 2005 The Year of the Veteran and it is fitting that we should take some time to think about the veterans who have defended Canada in the First and Second World Wars, Korea and in Peacekeeping. In particular, we should concentrate on over 4000 men who served in the 58th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force from 1915 to 1919 because of this church’s unique connection to the 58th. The founding vicar of the Church of the Transfiguration, Canon C. W. Hedley, served as a chaplain to the 58th, the battalion flags were deposited here after the disbanding of the battalion, and a plaque commemorating the 851 dead of the battalion is on the wall. The Boy Scouts and Wolf Cubs that meet here took 58 as their number. After the disbanding of the 58th Battalion in 1920 the church was for many years the place that the veterans of that battalion held their Remembrance Day services. The year 2005 also marks the ninetieth anniversary of the creation of the 58th.
My uncle, Corporal Archie MacKinnon, twice came very close to being on the list as one of the 58th soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice. Once near Ypres he was completely buried by an exploding shell and was saved by his comrades who dug him out. The second time was at Courcelette on the Somme battlefield when he was so severely wounded that after six months in a hospital in Wales he was shipped back to Toronto as ‘no longer fit for military duties.’ He, the other wounded, the dead, and those who survived unwounded, are all men whose memory we should keep and honour today and always. Veterans rarely spoke about their experiences because the horror of the memories was too intense for words. Archie was the same, according to his family, but his few surprisingly frank letters to his sister which have survived give us a rare glimpse of an ordinary soldier’s reaction to the carnage .
Uncle Archie was born in Toronto Junction in July 1895, the second son and third child of a Scottish immigrant also named Archie, and his wife Annie, an immigrant from County Armagh, Ireland. Two more sons were born to this couple, my father Neil in 1899, and his brother, my namesake, Gordon, in 1903. The first-born was the only daughter, Jean. It is because of Jean that we are able to know about Archie’s short traumatic time as a soldier because Jean preserved as a memorial the letters that Archie and his older brother Ronald sent to her from the trenches. Father Archie was a blacksmith and machinist in the CPR Shops in the Toronto Junction. Three years after mother Annie’s premature death at the age of 35, he remarried and moved his family of five children to a farm in Proton Township, Grey County, near Dundalk, Ontario.
Uncle Archie was single and boarding with his married sister Jean and her husband in the Junction when he volunteered for the new 58th Battalion in July 1915. He was only 19, a couple of weeks short of his twentieth birthday, but added a year to his age so he could be sure to get overseas before the war was over. Even though the Canadians had already suffered heavy casualties in history’s first use of poison gas, the first ‘weapon of mass destruction,’ at Ypres, Belgium in April of 1915, there was still the optimism that the war would be short and one should do his duty before it ended. We do not know the personal motives that the Archie had for volunteering. The economic recession of 1913-14, loyalty to the British Empire of these men who were either born in Britain or had British born parents, young men wanting adventure, anti-German war propaganda, have all been suggested as general reasons for the eager response to the call. Historians agree that what kept them going in the brutal conditions of the trenches was loyalty to their few immediate fellow sufferers in the front lines. In Archie’s letters we can see the rapid change from brash youth seeing war as a great adventure to a person who wanted no more of death and horror. These horrors for him included being buried alive, being hit five times by shrapnel balls without serious injury, and a permanent ringing in his ears from artillery explosions, in the short time the battalion spent in the trenches after its arrival in Flanders in March 1916. On June 13 1916 the battalion was in the attack at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres to regain the land lost in the Battle of Mount Sorrel from June 2-9. “Nobody can imagine what kind of night it was June 12th,” he wrote. “When you see five acres of bush going up in the air, there is something doing. Big trees and everything in the air at once. I got a letter from home wanting me to send a souvenir but believe me if I come back it will be souvenir enough.” Shortly thereafter, when his older brother, Ronald, who joined after Archie, was wounded in Sanctuary Wood, Archie’s letters became less exuberant. “Ron didn’t last long. Well there are lots who get it without ever seeing the Front Line.” Ronald had been in Flanders only three weeks and was destined to be killed at Vimy Ridge later.
The next correspondence that has survived was a telegram that stated that “Corporal Archie MacKinnon 452657 has been admitted to No.3 Western Hospital, Cardiff, Wales suffering from ‘gunshot wound arm and leg’.” He had been trained as a Lewis machine gunner and promoted to corporal, the soldier in the crew who fired the gun. On the first day the Canadians fought in the Battle of the Somme, September 15, 1916, near Courcelette, a shell explosion killed the others in the crew and Archie himself was hurled into the air. When he landed his leg was twisted around his neck and blood was dripping down his arm but stretcher bearers got him out after dark to a first aid station. His first letter from the hospital shows a return of his youthful enthusiasm. He had a Blighty, the army slang for a wound that was serious enough to require treatment in Britain. “O,” he wrote, “I am a hundred times better off now! Just imagine-a broken leg- a person couldn’t wish for a better Blighty! Six weeks or so in bed and then limp for the duration is my motto! I don’t want to be called a brave soldier. No more of France for me if I can get out of it,” and later the anguish again “I was wishing I would get hit so I could get out of it.”
It was during his long convalescence in the Cardiff hospital that he wrote the only letter to my father that has survived. My father, Neil, was born in May 1899 and so when this letter was written by Archie, Neil was sixteen and a half. “You say you want to enlist when you become of age. You are crazy, kid. There ain’t many fellows that go to France that don’t get hit. Look, I was hit not so bad and have been lying on my back eight weeks on Saturday. You never see any Germans of any account but you see all kinds of shells exploding, killing and wounding fellows… You sleep with your clothes on, lousy as hell, and nothing to eat. If you seen five minutes of it that would be enough. You don’t get a meal ever in the morning. The sergeant will throw a quarter loaf and a tin of bully beef and that does for 24 hours whether the rats eat it or not. You are foolish to join. I know now cause I have been through the mill and this is straight. I wouldn’t go back if I can get out of it. The war will last a good many years so don’t be in a hurry!”
When the medical authorities decided he was medically unfit for service because an infantry soldier with a bad leg cannot march 20 miles a day with a 30 kilogram back pack as the infantry often had to do, he was exuberant. “I am a sporty corporal now with a game leg. My girl is longing for my return to Canada which will only be a few weeks now. Well I have just had my dinner and am going down to Earley this afternoon by train. So you can see I am having a fairly good time.”
Archie arrived back in Toronto late in March 1917. His father met him at the station and wrote to his eldest son Ronald in the trenches. “Archie is not the boy he was when he went away.” That letter was never delivered but came back marked “Return to sender. Killed in Action April 9 1917”
These men and the men of the Second World War did not think of themselves as heroes. Indeed those who won medals for bravery were reluctant to tell of their exploits but preferred to jest that the medals and decorations had “come up with the rations.” Nor did they think of themselves as victims of incompetent generals as some historians have alleged. They saw themselves as men who had a duty to protect their country no matter the personal cost. Let us honour them for that. We will remember them.