Wednesday, October 15, 2014

World War Wednesdays: A Bear at War

A Bear at War: The Story of Lt. Lawrence Browning Rogers
     For anyone who visits the Canadian War Museum, there are countless exhibits and objects that cause one to pause and be overwhelmed at the magnitude of human conflict. There is an entire floor dedicated to showcasing tanks, vehicles and large weaponry, a section of the Berlin Wall, and a mock D-Day landing craft. However, there is one tiny little item located in the Canada and the First World War section which can be considered to be the most evocative. It is a dirty, mangled little teddy bear, and the story behind it is one that touches the hearts of historians and visitors alike.
     Before we explore the bear's story, it is important that we first get acquainted with the people involved in it. Lieutenant Lawrence Browning Rogers, born December 17, 1878, was the son of the late Maj. John and Hattie Duncan Rogers, of Montreal. He was married to Janet May Weaver Rogers, with whom he had two children, Howard and Aileen. According to his enlistment information, he was a farmer from Montreal, Quebec. He enlisted with the Canadian Mounted Rifles in Sweetsburg, Quebec on February 11, 1915. He was 36 years old at the time. He was sent to serve as a medic with the regiment in Belgium and France.
Lieutenant Lawrence Browning Rogers in uniform
      Before he made his journey overseas, ten-year-old Aileen gave a teddy bear to her father as a good luck charm and a memento of home. He promised to take good care of it, and to keep it with him always.
The little bear

      The family exchanged hundreds of letters during Lawrence's time at war. Below are a few examples of their correspondence.
Lawrence's wife, May feeding the chickens at their farm
Oct. 17, 1917
Dear Laurie
Think of it. I have sent you Christmas boxes already. What they said is we must do so early to ensure delivery. There will be such a lot. I had to pack in two boxes I marked them 1 & 2.
There are a couple of little gifts for Dan, they are marked from children and from me. Aileen made a sweater herself…excuse some uneven places. There is a lot of love and devotion knit into it. Howard saved up his money and that is hard, and bought your present himself and we did enjoy purchasing it.
I have been pretty sick for a week. Was not able to go out. Had to get what I could on Victoria Avenue. Have not been out for a week. Terrible pain in back across shoulders.
I guess it must be my age is breaking me up. Oh Laurie, I am so afraid it may make an invalid of me as it does of lots of women and the children need me. Pray for me to be spared that.
Children are working hard at school… Poor Aileen struggles along. I did not send her to dancing. Cost too much and she did not seem to want to go much.   So I want to give her music and can’t do everything. I have all the money I need. Don’t send me any. You may need it.
If only I could see you again I think it would make a different woman of me. Loneliness is eating my heart out and yours probably too.
I must go and get dinner for kiddies, love from us all and hoping for your leave.
I am always yours,

Lawrence and one of the horses, before the war
Sept. 3, 1917
Dear May
My how I dread the thought of putting in another winter in the trenches but I suppose it must be done for we have to win before we come back.
Russia may not be much use just now but she is coming along and the U.S. are doing fine, then Canada will buck up and there will be something doing. I would not be surprised if the actual fighting ceased this fall or early winter.
Wish I could just drop in for supper but suppose like a lot of things it will have to wait.
Tonight is almost a full moon over here but usually we do not appreciate moon-light nights. I don’t think you are getting very sentimental for I sure feel that way myself. I did not think you had gotten over it years ago but just perhaps fed up for a while and I sure don’t blame you for I was anything but good company at times.
Don’t worry dear about a cake although I like them, still it is an awful lot of work and I don’t want you to do it when you are not feeling well. I am glad that Aileen is able to ride her bicycle also Gray but she wants to be careful with him in case he should stumble and throw her.
However I am sure it will do her the world of good learning to ride and then Gray is such a quiet beast to learn on. Glad to hear that you are feeling better but do take care of yourself for my sake.
Dan is going to write to you about his money as soon as he can get time. I heard that Major Hewson was over in England again but could not find out when I was over there.
I am just as anxious as you to see all again and I am hoping and trying all I can to get at least a furlough to come home but cannot tell yet if I can get it.
Well dear there is nothing very much to write about so will close and go to bed.
Lots of love for you all
Yours always
Aileen's Christmas report card

May 4, 1917
Dear Aileen
I received a letter from mother today enclosing a copy of your Easter report. It was fine and Dad was so proud of it. He showed it to all the boys and Dan came in and of course I  had to show it to him, he was almost as pleased as I was.
I received the Easter parcel yesterday so was able to give Dan his bunny card also the bunch of grapes, which he and I are eating now. He had never seen anything like them before so was very pleased with them.
I would liked to have had Howard’s report too. It must have been fine and I am very much stuck up about you both.
The weather is sure lovely just now and the sun is fine and warm and as you know I like warm weather. It looks good to me.
I want to enclose a letter to Howard and so will finish this one.
Lots of love for you all from
The teddy
Sept. 25, 1916
Dear May
I am awfully glad you decided to go to town for the winter and feel sure you will not regret it. First, there will not be so much to worry about, only the cooking for yourselves. Second you will be nearer to family should anything go wrong.  Thirdly you will be much nearer to your friends and will not get out of touch with civilization and last but not least, the kiddies will have a chance to go to school…
The weather here is very nice but for a while it was terrible, cold and wet and lots of mud. For two days we had to sleep out in the rain and mud and the consequence of that is most of us have colds and are full of rheumatism.
Tell Aileen I still have the Teddy Bear and will try to hang on to it for her. It is dirty and his hind legs are kind of loose but he is still with me.
Good night dear. Love to all. Hope you are all well.
Yours lovingly,
Aileen feeding the chickens
Aug. 13, 1916
Dear May
I received a letter from you dated July 25. You are not the only one who is having a hot time for it is very hot over here but the nights are cold in fact it is necessary to have a blanket to sleep under.
Why does not Clinton try to get into the Canadian Army Medical Corps. I think it would be just the job for him and in my opinion is the best work in the whole army.
I had a nice letter from Harry Jackson the other day. He would like to come over but cannot, you know their little one has been in a plaster cast for a long time and he said that he could not come…the kiddie had to come first and I guess he is right.
How were you so lucky, or should I say successful, with the sweet peas this year. I never could make a success of them, perhaps Jan got them in earlier than I did and took more care of them. If you get anything like a decent offer for the hens let them go. It will be so much less work for you to do.
How did those apple trees come on, that I planted and was so proud of. They ought to have been in pretty good shape this year.
I can sleep on the floor or anywhere else for that matter now but would like to see a good, clean bed again for a while.
I have been put in charge of the dressing station for this trip and do not have to go into the frontline, which is something but don’t think it is all a picnic here for it certainly is not.
However, it is safer than the line. So we should be thankful for even that.
We had one busy day and then things seem to have quieted down, but one can never tell just how soon things will happen over here.
Tell Howard to write me a letter even if he does not like to write the practice will do him good and the letter will do me good. Also tell Aileen I am anxiously looking for another letter from her and some more cookies. The last were fine.
Well there is nothing much to write about, and as there are a few shells going overhead which makes me jumpy, will close. Love to all and hope you all sleep well.
"The little ones", Aileen (10) and Howard (7)
Aug. 2, 1916
Dear May
I have just washed up my supper dishes – one plate, a cup and a spoon, so feel that I deserve a little leisure and cannot employ it better than writing home and letting you know that I am well.
There are two of us on this job in the medical hut and we get along fine. We have a little gasoline stove and cook our meals on it. We had some eggs, bread and butter and tea, then we managed to get a can of strawberry jam and our M.O. had a parcel sent him the other day and there was a tin of preserved cream in it, which he gave to us and we had that so we did not fare so badly.
Mind we don’t always live that way and there are times when we have to hustle for our grub. I got your parcel all okay and we were very glad to get it. The cake and candy was very acceptable.
I don’t know just when we are going to move again but I suppose it will be soon and then it will be to a new position but at present we cannot say for we don’t know.
I hope you can get an apartment in Westmount so the kiddies can go to school there. Things will right themselves. You know we have always put great faith in the Lord and everything has turned out all okay and I feel sure if we do the same now the Lord will take care of us.
It is wonderful to me to think of how well I have been and what I have gone through in these last 10 months and it’s certainly because a higher power is looking after and taking care of me.
All we can do now is to still put our faith to him and trust that all will come out all right. Kiss the little ones for me and lots of love for all from Daddy.

     Some of these letters were sent by Lt. Rogers while he was stationed at the legendary battle of Passchendaele. According to the Narrative of Operations 29-31 October 1917, 5th CMR War Diary, "At the battle of Passchendaele, the Regimental Aid Post with Capt. Ireland as Medical Officer, and Lieut. Rogers in charge of Stretcher Bearers was established in a Pill Box near the Advance Battalion Headquarters at Kron Prinz Farm." Sadly, the deaths of Lt. Rogers and Captain Ireland are reported on the subsequent page of the Narrative of Operations:
11.20 amReport from Advance Bn. H.Qs., timed 10.30 a.m., that Capt. IRELAND, M.O. and Lieut. ROGERS were killed and only two of Stretcher Bearer party left.
Request made immediately to A.D.S. to send up another M.O. at once. This was quickly responded to.
It was estimated at this time that our casualties (5th CMR) are about 300.
     It was said that he was tending to a wounded soldier, and was killed by enemy fire. His wife May received this letter:

Nov. 3, 1917
Dear Mrs. Rogers -
Words written or spoken would fail to express to you our sympathies with you in your sad bereavement.
Mr. Rogers was more than a comrade to both. Dan and myself and I can assure you we both feel the loss of such a comrade deeply.
We have at least one consolation. His sacrifice will not have been made in vain.
His medical work will be remembered by many who have been attended by him in the field and many a poor fellow has departed this world with little pain thanks to the untiring efforts of Mr. rogers.
Our Empire and our God I am sure cannot forget such deeds.
In your sorrow remember that our God knows best what is good for us, and I am sure it is God’s will that our comrade should be called to higher service.
Mr. Rogers died serving his God and Country, what better and nobler death could a man die.
In closing kindly permit Dan and myself to again offer you our sincerest sympathies.
Yours sincerely,
J.M. Wright
     Lieutenant Rogers was awarded the Military Medal, and was buried at Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial, Belgium.

     Amazingly, when Rogers's body was found, the teddy bear given to him by Aileen was still in his pocket. It was battered and dirty, but it was there. It was returned home to his family, making its sad journey home without its carrier. Eighty-five years later, Lawrence's granddaughter found Teddy, the letters, and other war memorabilia packed away in a briefcase.The bear is now on display at the Canadian War Museum, along with a letter from Aileen. It remains one of the most moving historical objects in Canada.

The bear and letter display at the CWM

  The story of the bear has since been turned into a children's book called A Bear in War by Stephanie Innes, Harry Endrulat, and Brian Deines. " Accompanied by family photographs and Brian Deine's poignant art, A Bear in War is more than one family's testament to a brave soldier. It is a gentle introduction to war, to Remembrance Day, and to the honor of those who have served their countries." (Amazon)

     Thanks for reading about this sad but meaningful story. I consider it to be a timeless one, and powerful for all audiences.


Thanks to the following sources for supplementary information:

The Canadian War Museum
The Canadian Great War Project
Pajama Press

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