When I was a child, I remember hearing stories of my Great Uncle Stanley who fought in WW2 and who became a Prisoner of War (POW). Apparently, as the story goes, my Great Uncle Stanley was a Navigation Officer and the plane he was in was in trouble. The pilot instructed them to jump out. After my uncle and his buddy bailed, the pilot managed to get the air craft under control and fly to safety. My uncle, on the other hand, landed in a body of water and then swam to an island. Soon after, the Germans promptly took him and his friend as prisoners. Here is one of the letters he wrote on August 3rd 1943. It is addressed to my grandfather (who wasn't yet my grandfather) and somehow in August of 1943, this letter from a war camp in Germany found it's way to the upper Ottawa valley with only 3 words as its guide: Sheenboro, Quebec, Canada.
And here is the other side:
Dear Brother of mine;
As ever, I am in the very best of health but I am still looking forward to mail. I have nothing to worry about except my sun tan and my occupation after this war. Tell me all about the conditions upon our return and what the gov't expects to do for us. I also have two or three businesses in mind but they will take time to mature. I expect to be in England for some time after the war on a diet. But I never felt better than I do now. Send Delores an engraved compact for Nov. 5th and also initiate travelling logs for Christmas. I expect to get married when I return if I feel up to it. By now the Red Cross will have advised you about what you can send. Also tell all the folks to write. Had any news since Jean was married? Tell Gilbert that the demand for lumber will be very great after the war so buy your own mill. Send some snaps if you think they will reach me in time. Say hello to Father Harrington and all the folks. I will be with you all soon.
Love to all, Stan
As you can see, he had a sense of humour. They were fed a potato per day (if lucky) and sometimes there wasn't a thing to eat. The biggest crime you could commit in the camp was stealing food from another prisoner. This resulted in a harsh punishment that involved a head dunking into the hole that was used for voiding. Little did he know when he wrote the last line of "I will be with you soon" that he was just beginning a two year stint as a POW from 1943 to 1945. In that time, he wrote a few letters to his brother and sister-in-law who eventually became my grandfather and grandmother. These letters are an important part of my family history.
During WW2, the only option of staying in contact with your loved one was letter writing. I imagine the joy a young soldier would feel when the mail came in and he was handed a letter from home.....maybe from his mother or from his gal whom he left behind to go to war. How many letters were written in the quiet hours of the night by lantern and how many letters were worn out from being read over and over again? It is fascinating to me to handle this 67-year old letter and to know that my Great Uncle touched it as did my Grandfather and Grandmother when they were in their early 20's.
Today, when soldiers are deployed to places like Afghanistan, many families can stay in contact with their loved one through email and regular doses of Skype. Often, mothers (and sometimes fathers) are left behind to single parent their children. This alone leaves little time for handwriting letters. And who can resist the instant communication of email and the chance to view your loved one in real time on the computer screen.
Since this is The Letter Writing Revolution, I am going to suggest we all write one letter (at least) to a soldier serving in Afghanistan. If you would like to write a letter to a Canadian Soldier serving in Afghanistan right now, click HERE for instructions and addresses.
And of course, I want to hear about it!!! This is a post that I hope will be spread far and wide and if you are reading this and you live outside of Canada, you can contact a military base close to you to find out how to get letters to your soldiers.
On that note, I am off to write a letter to a soldier.