Wednesday, April 13, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Letters Home to Dutton, WWI

The former Dutton railway station

     This week's post is the result of something I always knew existed but never actually looked for, but then when I did look into it, it was better than I could have imagined. Not that I'm ever running short of ideas to share with you, but sometimes I put a bit more thought into the kinds of things that you all seem to enjoy based on the responses. So, this week, I thought I'd do another local piece from good old Dutton, based on some publications by the Dutton Advance.

     Previously, I had been aware that the dearly departed local newspaper ran some fascinating features during the Second World War which published letters written by local boys to their families back home in the area. I decided to look into them this week, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I am not the only one interested in reading them. In fact, some of the Dutton letters are being used as part of a lesson on soldier's lives for Canadian kids through The Canadian Letters and Images Project. The best part of all is that the project has created a wonderful digital archive in which the Dutton Advance even has its own collection! For this week, I decided to compile the letters from the First World War, and depending on reader response I will continue to feature more of the letters from both the First and Second World Wars as the weeks go on. Your feedback is always welcomed and appreciated!

Without further ado, here  are two letters from William Mitton:
November 12, 1914
"Its Not So Much the Material Help as the Spirit Which Affects Them"
W.J. Mitton has received the following letter from his son, William, who is with the Eighth Battery forming part of the First Canadian Contingent. The letter was written on board S.S. Grampian as it lay in Plymouth Bay.
Well, here goes for a few lines to let you know the kind of trip we had. We sailed from Quebec on October 1 and proceeded down the river to Gaspe Bay. The whole fleet assembled there. We reached there on Oct. 2 and laid there until the 4th, when the whole fleet steamed away three abreast. It was a sight that must have made the habitants open their eyes. A fleet of that many liners and warships never left Canada before and I guess it will be many a day before it happens again. Gaspe Bay surely was an ideal place to conceal the mobilizations of the fleet. It is a large bay just past the mouth of the St. Lawrence on the south side, and is far enough off the track of all ships to be unseen. There is no town and I guess there is no telegraph, so I guess we were out of the ken of the world till to-day (Oct. 15.)
We had a big escort, which increased greatly as soon as we began to near Europe. We had several battleships at last, including the big Queen Mary. She is a regular monster, one of the most powerful fighting machines in the world. We passed the Bishop's Rock light early this morning, Oct. 14, and steamed up the channel and I saw the chalk cliffs of old England for the first time. We reached Plymouth Bay just before dark and are now anchored in the harbor to unload and entrain for our camp.
It surely gives a man confidence in Britain when he sees all the warships lying in port here. There seems to be dozens and dozens of them, ranging in size from the big white super-Dreadnoughts to the vicious looking little destroyers.
We had ideal weather nearly all the way over. The last two days were rather stormy and this boat is a great old roller, but I have never yet been sea sick, so it didn't bother me at all. We had all kinds of amusements on the ship - sports, card parties, concerts, etc. almost every night, so the time passed quite quickly.
We have had very good luck with our horses. Our battery did not lose a single horse and the whole brigade only four,and it was a very hard trip for them too. To-morrow will be twenty days they have been on the ship.
December 2, 1915
Preparing For Christmas In the Trenches - More Canadians Should Enlist
November 7, 1915
I am still in the best of health, though at present I have a slight cold, but guess it will be O.K. in a day or so.
Things have been rather quiet here lately and I guess that nothing much will happen on the front till spring.
We are sleeping in the old convent and I hope we don't have to move till spring. We have made stoves out of old oil cans, etc., and although they usually give out more smoke than heat, they are much better than nothing. We have also made beds from a few odds and ends of wood from the engineers in the next field and a few old sacks stretched over them. Really, they are not so bad either. When you have been sleeping on bare floors and cobblestones, etc., for over a year, you can make yourself comfortable any place. I don't believe I'll ever be hard to suit in the matter of accommodation or fastidious about my meals again.
Quite a few of the fellows have been away on leave to England. They get seven days in England, so that's not so bad. We are sending about five a week at present, so guess I'll get a leave sometime.
Say, dad, do you remember an Englishman named Tommie James, who used to work for Dugald Blue on Clay St.? He says you placed him there and often asks about you. He is a very nice quiet fellow.
So Harold James has enlisted. Well its near time a few of the native-born Canadians came over here. In this battery I don't believe there are twenty-five native-born Canadians. There seems to be a disposition on their part to wait till its over and then enlist. No, it don't look as if the war would be over for some time yet but I guess we can stand it if Fritz can.
Well, Christmas will soon be here and I guess we will have a mild celebration of some kind. We used to be able to get English beer and stout here, which would have added a little to the spirit of good fellowship, but that is now prohibited, so guess we will have to be content with tea. All the beverages you can get here are light wines (red and white), the first tastes like red ink and looks the same, and the other tastes like vinegar thinned out with water, and Belgian beer of which no white man will take more than two glasses.
I had a letter from Bernice the other day. They are both well. She was talking to Sam Hughes when he visited Berlin {now Kitchener} recently and seems to think he is the greatest military genius since poor old Napoleon snuffed out. She told him that she had a brother with the 1st contingent and he asked for my name and number, so don't be surprised if you hear that I have been made a corporal or a spare general or something like that.
Well, folks, I really must close as there is absolutely no news. Nothing ever happens here so if I write long letters I'd have to draw on my imagination and there are far too many doing that now. Write as often as you can and I'll do the same.
Your son.
     There's definitely more where these came from, so stay tuned for more updates from the front!
Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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