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South Shore Genealogical Society


Letters Home from the Front

(If you have any personal letters you might like to contribute, have a photograph or know what happened to any of these men, please email the webmaster or the SSGS).

Boer War letters    World War I letters 1915    World War I letters 1915    World War I letters 1915-17    World War I letters 1917-18


These letters are transcribed from, and courtesy of, the Berwick Register newspaper, Berwick NS, by Phil and Stephanie Vogler and reproduced here with Phil's kind permission. The Register Extracts and Vital Statistics are at: Berwick Register Extracts Project - a site created by the Voglers consisting of extracts from the Berwick Register newspaper. This site now hosts a collection of vital statistics (1900-1916 so far) compiled and indexed by John Parker. Lots of Lunenburg Co. names there .


Berwick Register of February 27th 1918

Arthur Cyril March, of the Princess Pat's, a prisoner of war in Switzerland, writes to his mother:

Hotel Eiger, Murren, Suisse,

Dec. 30, 1917.

DEAR MOTHER: Without doubt you have heard before this that I am in Switzerland, one of those interned - a new phase of the world's war, and believe me a very fortunate one for me. Naturally, captivity surrounded by barbed wire, seeing starving men around one everyday, and being unable to help them, living in a barrack with a couple of hundred others, many of whom are the most uncongenial of human beings - noisy, etc., types that are to be found I think only in the army or out of any regular employment. Such a life for one who likes to study, read, and to think, for one who has been used to the great broad sweeps of the prairies, and a position not of a subordinate nature, - such a life as was that one back in Germany, was not a life but a poor existence - with of course, because of some associates, not a few very pleasant and profitable hours. That is past, and owing to the food sent us by the Red Cross, and the constitution that was ours, we are still alive, and will be shortly quite well again.

Germany has been living on very little for a long time, and will, I believe, continue to do so. Their will and organization are wonderful - the people are making sacrifices that as yet possibly no other country has made. The treatment of prisoners varies. In some cases exceedingly kind, others, particularly in reprisals, and in mines, very brutal. However, at present the British, in comparison with the poor Russians and Italians are well treated. And their lot is good. They are respected, and in many cases, especially those from the British Isles, get along with the Germans (if they are working among the farmers,) even better than they do with the French.

Germany's soul is undergoing a change - recent prisoners from the front tell different stories from those which many had to tell, although at all times my treatment has been not unfair: - Hungry, yes, uncomfortable, yes, in a world's war things like that are to be expected.

My associates helped wonderfully to give many fine hours, better than which for men to have is impossible - hours with a couple of Frenchmen, and with the Russian Doctor, in reality a Pole, a Professor, and literary man, a mind as clear and keen as the best, a heart as large as the world. Then there were a few of the Canadian boys, Donald Chase and Bob Hare, a medical student and a prince, our Red Cross man, and the only one who knew anything about his work - the knowledge of many who serve in that capacity is apparently nil - but among all the Britishers, there was no other university graduate, possibly, that has been of use to me, inasmuch as I was obliged to get after French and Russian, to be able to speak freely with the best men in Camp. When I think of some of those fellows back there, in spite of the fact that I am practically free here, I feel that even yet while they are there, I am still in a degree a prisoner.

We always tried to make the best of a bad job. Last winter we had no coal, it was very difficult to get wood to cook with - Donald Chase and myself invented an electric stove in the office of the "Sans Fil." In two days after we started, we had it going full swing - the cost for the wire was about three cents per stove - the rest of the material we managed to get around camp - very simple - one would last about a week. We each had one, as then we did not mess together. They were certainly convenient, and used a great deal of electricity, but as there was only one meter for the whole camp, there was no check on the current. Had we been caught, of course, it would have meant a couple of months, perhaps, of arrest - but in War time, one takes chances. That served well until last August, when, owing to a rumor that a special party was coming to search, we got rid of it. The same applied to electric light - a good reading and studying lamp has always, not always, but since the first of the year, been at my service. To all appearances, it was an acetylene lamp - the wires were concealed and believe me they would take some finding. Such was my lot, mother - better indeed than many others.

I have never been in what they call the catagorie for hard work, my air of being rather weak was no doubt partly due to the fact that I had no desire and made no attempt to appear strong - and when German (ordinary camp) doctors have their inspections, they decide largely by a man's appearance, and what it seems to them that he has done. My ability to speak German, and the advice of the Russian doctor, no doubt, helped me whenever my case was in discussion, and I gave it the best representation possible - as you see - for I am in Switzerland now.

Oh! it is indeed beautiful here - the great mountains - today, the peaks which yesterday were quite visible are shut off by a snow storm.

(A sheet here has evidently been deleted by the Censor.).

When I say that it is one of Switzerland's best, then you know it is O.K. There are in all, a couple of hundred British interned - about forty in this hotel. I have a first class room, sharing it with another chap, also a Canadian - two beautiful beds, well furnished, and steam heated - a view that is quite poetic - already I have climbed up among the hills - soon I hope to skate, ski, etc. It seems that it is difficult to get money here - the last group of interned here, a great many old soldiers had a weakness for "Booze" and a poor sense of responsibility. They failed to remember that they were guests of one of the greatest little countries on the earth, so the British government, ashamed of their conduct, not only punished them, but took steps that would prevent in the future a similar type from having too much money. The amount now is sufficient for ordinary expenses, but if a person wishes to buy books to attempt to get as nearly as possible back to his civil mode of living, than it is insufficient, and some means will have to be taken to get a supplement. That will be arranged all right. When I feel real fit again, I hope to take up studies at the Swiss universities. Here French and German will be indispensable, while Russian, without doubt, will be of service too.

So it goes, mother, all fine and dandy.

The Swiss people gave us a lovely reception at one city at 11 p.m., another at 2 a.m., and now all their resources, resorts, climate, food, doctors, educational institutions are at the disposal of the interned to make them as well as possible in body and soul.

Trust this finds you all well. With love to you all and with best wishes for the coming year,

Your affect. Son,

A. CYRIL MARCH

Address: L/C A CYRIL MARCH, M.G. 195, P.P.C.L.I., British Interned Prisoner of War, Hotel Eiger, Murren, Switzerland,


Berwick Register of February 9th, 1918

A Soldier's idea of Conscription.

The following extract from a recent letter of Pte. Geo. R. MacKinlay, formerly of the 219th, now of the 13th Highlanders, to his father, Wm. K. MacKinlay of So. Berwick, may be of interest to his many friends here, especially the opinion on Conscription and the great work the Y.M.C.A and the Church Army are doing for the boys at the front. After a year in the trenches he is having a short furlough in England.

France Dec. 3rd. 1917.

DEAR DAD: - Just to let you know I am still alive and well and thankful for that, but, of course a fellow can never know what is coming to him. I will be here a year without getting a scratch but have lost a number of my pals in the last big scrap. I am scribing this in one of the Church Army huts. They and, more especially, the Y.M.C.A, are doing wonderful work out here and, believe me, they go to make life a lot brighter both in trench and billet.

You will often find a Y.M.C.A dugout very close to the front line trenches where you can get almost anything you need, biscuits, candy, etc. reasonably and very often tea, coffee or cocoa, free. What ever some of us used to think of the Y.M.C.A at home, it is a God send over here.

Of course you heard about the elections being held out here. I do not believe in conscription but still I have voted for the Government. In one sense we don't want it as it is taking away the greatest thing we have, in fact what we are fighting for, our Liberty.

But again, taking it form our point of view, over here, we want reinforcements and the more we get the easier it will be on us; the more leave we will get and above all the more rest. And again, any man with any reasonable excuse can get exemption, so it will only serve to root out a lot of slackers who should have come anyway. Well, I must close please answer soon and tell all the news. Wishing you all the best of luck and happiness in the coming year I am as ever, your affectionate son.

George
No. 283,423, 13th Batt. C.E.F. France.


Berwick Register of October 9, 1918

Letter From a Prisoner

Mr. David H. Borden, of Canard, for some time a prisoner in Germany, now interned in Holland, writes to the Red Cross:

The Hague, August 28, 1918.

The Ladies of the Berwick Red Cross.

Dear Friends. - Mrs. Harris told me some time ago that you were paying for my parcels in Germany, but, owing to restrictions on correspondence, I have been unable to thank you.

I arrived in Holland about three weeks ago, under the agreement of 1917, for the internment of officers, N.C.O's and invalids in neutral countries. Needless to say, the change is very much to our liking. In the lagers of Germany, British, Italians, French, Belgians, Russians and the rest, are all herded together in close, smelly barracks. Here we are billeted in empty houses and hotels, two or three in a room. The food, well, the German rations were not fit for pigs and we were compelled to live entirely on our parcels, except when we succeeded in stealing a few vegetables.

As for treatment, I want to forget that, until I get a chance at a German again. You may be certain that no ex-kriegsgafangener will forget or forgive Germany in a hurry. Our papers don't print half enough regarding them. No matter what agreements they make for better treatment of prisoners, they always find some way of dodging around a corner. Thousands of newly captured men are kept working close to the line, until they either die of starvation or are killed or maimed by shell fire. I know one sergeant, who was thirteen months under our own hellfire, and finally came back with one of his arms useless.

If it were not for the British Red Cross not one prisoner in ten would ever leave Germany alive. In Saltan Lager, Russians and Italians are dying at the rate of ten a day. The French and Belgian prisoners are fairly well looked after, but the British are away above all. In all the large lagers, relief committees receive parcels of food, clothing and medical comforts for the new prisoners. Each new prisoner gets a parcel every tenth day until his own parcels come through. Then as far as food and clothing is concerned, he is far better off than his captors.

We have been hoping to hear that the new agreement for direct exchange of all prisoners had been ratified, but so far we have been disappointed. There's no use saying we're not homesick, though its really more the desire to be doing something. It's no joke, sitting on the bench, when the game is a tight one.

I started in to tell you how deeply grateful all the boys are to the women of the Red Cross, and instead, I've been burdening you with more of our troubles. As a matter of fact, my vocabulary is too limited to say all I want to. So until I see you in person, I will just say, "Thank you" for all of us.

Very sincerely yours,

David H. Borden.


Berwick Register,

June 19, 1918

At the Front.

(Extracts from a letter of Major Fallis, dated May 26th. Major Fallis is “A.D.C.S. Lines of Communication, Canadians, France.”)

. . . I have been so busy lately that I have scarcely been able to sleep or eat. I am getting into my stride now and find myself as enthusiastic as it is possible for me to be over the chaplaincy work of this part of the service. I wish I could send my diary of these days and weeks. Like the Irishman’s flea, I’m everywhere. But, just this minute, I’m in my billet, and it is time for bed. I have just come in and, as I missed dinner, I have three sandwiches and a cup of tea in front of me as an evening meal.

This is Sunday night again, and such a night it has been! I am just back from a long car ride. I was attending the beautiful memorial service for the nurses and doctors and C.A.M.C. boys and men killed in that awful air raid of a week ago tonight. I have seldom seen a service so impressive.

That was an awful air raid. I have experienced a lot of air raids and shelling but I have never seen anything that would match this. It was awe-inspiring at a distance and terrifying when they drew near with their bombs. I had none drop closer than 600 yards from me, but the poor patients and sisters of two of our Canadian hospitals got an awful mopping up. It was diabolical. The funeral of the killed, which was held the following Tuesday night at sunset, was a sight never to be forgotten by any who were there. It seemed so awful that those who were doing nought else but care for the wounded and dying should suffer so.

One of my padres, Capt. Parker, from Sussex, N.B., was badly wounded. After service I motored over to see the nurses who were wounded and are in hospital six miles away. They are all off for “Blighty” tonight. They were as cheery as “Tommies.” I wish I had time to write it up for all the world to read.


October 30, 1918

J. Kenneth Butler.

Among those who, in the earlier stages of the war, gave themselves to the service of their country was James Kenneth Butler, of Berwick. He was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Butler and was born in Berwick, September 13, 1896. As he grew out of childhood he acquired a health and vigor to which, as a child it had been feared that he would never attain. Before he had quite completed the curriculum of the schools he entered the service of the Royal Bank of Canada. In this service he won rapid advancement and at the outbreak of the war was paying teller in the agency at Berwick. He offered himself for foreign service; the offer was accepted and he went overseas as a member of the 25th Battalion. After the usual period of training in England, he crossed to France where he had his share of the terrible life of the soldier during the first two years of the war. The exposures and toils incident to trench life were too severe and he was invalided to England and, later, returned to Canada, arriving at his home in Berwick on April 2, 1917. His life since then has been a battle with disease and the end came in the early hours of Sabbath last, October 27th.

Kenneth was a young man of most estimable qualities, beloved and respected by all who knew him.

The bereaved family has the sincere sympathy of very many friends.

Boer War letters    World War I letters 1915    World War I letters 1915    World War I letters 1915-17    World War I letters 1917-18

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