One of the major parts of my job this summer was doing research in the archives about letters from soldiers at the Front. While researching the Crease family, I discovered a large collection of letters written to both Lindley and Helen Crease from Arthur Crease (Lt., 88th Victoria Fusiliers) who was in France from 1916-1919. Other letters dated farther back in time and in the family’s generations, but the largest amount came from Arthur.
These letters were all handwritten. And writing changes. Big time. I decided to compare a letter written to one of the Creases in 1812 to a letter written to Lindley in 1912. I had thought the 1912 letter was horrible, but looking back another 100 years was so incredibly difficult to read.
Here’s a letter I transcribed from J.G. Starrier, 12 June 1915, telling Lindley Crease about what his unit is like and what he is doing in France. Notice there are words I could not read, but that I added square brackets to indicate that.
Fourth Field Ambulance
([1 word illegible]) Dibgate Camp
12 July 1915
Dear Mr. Crease,
Tonight I saw a Victoria paper and heard for the first time the news of Pilkington’s death: I’m very grieved indeed! He was one of the men I most wanted to see at the Front. A short time ago I called at Napier Barracks, Shorncliffe – where some of the headquarters staff of the 30th Battalion are stationed; There I saw Stanford, formerly assistant to Green, BC.LS, whose office used to be in Bastion Square, and who did a good deal of work for us. He told me as much as he could of my friends in the 30th: particularly he mentioned Corporal Pilkington – as being very much alive and keen as ever. It will be a terrible blow to his people and to all his friends in Victoria. I mean to write to his people and tell them how much he was respected by all who knew him.
We reached England at the end of April and we’re still here, and likely to remain until the whole of the Sixth Brigade are ready to leave for the Front. We feel almost ashamed to write back to Canada, and have to confess that we are still marking time. Last week there was a rumour that 25 or 50 of our Corps (of 250) were to be sent off this week as reinforcements for the 3rd Field Ambulance – I’m sure most, if not at all, of us would have volunteered and hoped to be chosen: but alas! the rumour appears to be unfounded.
(I’m sorry the paper is so mixed!)
We are really a Divisional unit – with the 5th & 6th Corps we attend to the medical requirements of the Second Canadian Division (under General Steele) – but we are particularly attached to the Second Brigade (under Brigadier Gen. Ketchen) – consisting of the 27th (Winnipeg) 28th (North West (Sask. Ontario, &c)) 29th (Vancouver) and 31st (Calgary) Battalion and various A.S.C., Artillery Park, C.F.A. & other auxiliary units – about 5000 men in all. Most of these troops are training hard here – musketry courses at [1 word illegible] and machine gun practice at Lydd (a little Kent village where Lyddite was first made) – and it is said that we are not likely to get orders to move till August at the earliest. We hear so many stories of the urgent needs of those fighting at the Front that we all feel ashamed to be so long in getting there. However no doubt the Powers that be know best: many hundreds of thousands of Kitchener’s Army are likely to cross to France this month, and many more are going to the Dardanelles.
It’s certain, I think, that the Country has never been so scarred to its depths by War: I imagine that even in Napoleon’s day many Britons were apathetic and hardly affected – but now the War is almost the only thing people ever speak of, and the only thing in the papers – almost everyone has a near relative fighting or working for the Country: Farms and houses must have blinds pulled down every night: lamp posts are shaded and most of them are not lighted: khaki is everywhere and men not wearing it often wear a special constable’s or Home Defence Corps badge: in Sandgate (& other towns, no doubt) there is a notice that as soon as Zeppelins are sighted the town crier will parade the streets and announce the fact and the citizens are advised to take shelter – in cellars &c if possible.
Yet, I am perfectly sure that the whole people are quietly confident of our ultimate success and not in the least alarmed at German threats. If sailors or passengers are drowned, or peaceful inhabitants killed, well! it is one of the risks of the present war, and the citizen is quite ready to take that risk, for he knows that his own brothers or cousins are taking greater risks for him. In spite of all the pessimistic talk I feel proud of the splendid spirit shown by our people: we are still a healthy nation, prepared to fight for our ideals and not at all degenerate or disunited!
I was delighted to get your most interesting letter and to hear also from Mr. Fowkes of his notable success in convincing a jury of his fellow-citizens – I don’t mean to suggest that he was in the Dock!
We are quite near to Folkestone & Dover and we see a great many minesweepers, some T.B.D.s, cruisers, submarines (only British ones), aeroplanes and 3 large British airships – By the war, one of the airships was flying low over our Camp, a week or two ago – apparently something was wrong with its engine. [1 word illegible, possibly “Few”] days ago I heard an excellent authority that the officer in command of the aerodrome, who was also in charge of this particular airship, was shot by the second in command as a spy! It is said that he was caught in the act of dropping a bomb on an English town! There have been several cases of the kind, but they are, of course, rare – though the German spy system is amazingly audacious.
Camps are everywhere round here: it is said that there is a great net from Folkestone to Boulogne to keep submarines away: all the harbours are mined: Dover is used for hospital ships, Folkestone for troop ships and Newhaven for stores.
This part of Kent is exceedingly beautiful and excellent country for manoeuvres. We are all feeling very fit and are, I hope, getting pretty efficient. We had 3 days manoeuvring and [1 word illegible] last week, also an inspection by Surgeon-General Jones, the head of the C.A.M.C. Of the C.E.D. This week we hope to be reviewed by Sir Robert Borden [1 word illegible] Sam Hughes!
I managed to get 5 days’ leave to see my people in London and I have gone up several times at the week-end. I am sending you a photograph of my youngest niece and myself: I told the members of my tent that she was the most talkative member of the family – and they wouldn’t believe it! When you are ten in a tent, each with 4 pairs of boots, 2 kitbacks, haversacks, &c., it is absolutely essential to be tolerant and as agreeable as possible, and on the whole we get on very well together. I find that soldiers, for all their faults, are almost always kind, generous, tolerant and friendly, and – especially if they are Canadians – they are exceedingly fond of humour and teasing each other: we are very like shool-boys, after all. We have a splendid set of fellows, I think, especially in “B” Section (From B.C.) – although we are so mixed! Three of my best friends are, respectively: a rancher (R.S.Collins, a Hailebury boy, son of the vicar of a place in [Hants]), a bricklayer and a surveyor from the Parliament Boys, Victoria.
Capt. Holman is well and glad to get your message – he’s as humourous as ever! Kindest regards to Lady Crease & your sisters & yourself and to all the office staff from yours sincerely
[signed J.G. Starrier]
P.S. Please tell Mr. Fowkes that I mean to write to him this week. [signed J.G.S.]