|The only photo in the parcel of letters is of Merlin Mode, my maternal great-uncle.|
When I phoned to wish my friend Colleen a very happy 88th birthday, we got to talking about Remembrance Day, and I remembered that when we lived in Cobourg, Ontario, I used to walk to the cenotaph with my father. I would have been a child and I remember standing next to him -- he wore a navy blue trench coat -- and looking at the green and red of the wreaths against the pale grey stone of the large cenotaph.
This fall, my mother received a large parcel of family letters and cards, and many of them are the letters three of her four maternal uncles -- Merlin, Everett and Donald -- sent back home while they were posted in England, and for a time in Italy, during World War Two. But because none of them died -- as officers, they weren't on the front lines and they weren't bombed while in England (although Everett mentioned losing his address book when all his stuff was bombed) -- I haven't felt the personal connection to the war that many do. In our family, it was those who died back home while the three boys were gone -- their mother, father and only sister -- that was the poignant story from the war.
Reading these letters certainly changes that. Some of them are hard to read because they are written in pencil on onion skin paper, and the uncle who wrote the most, Donald, had small writing.
The earliest letter in this parcel was typed by Uncle Merlin to his father. It's dated Saturday, October 12, 1940, from "Records Section, 2nd Echelon". Here are some excerpts from that letter:
"The bombers come over every night and are making life miserable. Here we are lucky and have little excitement in that respect for as a rule, he leaves us alone. London is still bearing the brunt of the attack and quite a bit of damage has been done there..."
"At this time of year at home, the coal dealers all over the country will have their yards well stocked with fuel. Here in all my travels I have yet to see even a coal yard. The miners are only working part time and instead of getting a good supply ahead, they will not get the coal out until it is actually needed, with the result that there is always a shortage of fuel. Last year people were rationed to 1 bag (112 lbs.) a week and when I told the landlord that we used about 2 tons of coal a month at home, he thought I was lying. How the folks here can keep warm on a bag a week is a mystery to me."
"The war situation is changing again and the scene of war seems to be shifting Eastward. We of course have no idea of what will happen but if serious war does start in the East, I would not be at all surprised if some of us are sent there. In a way, I rather hope not, for I have no desire to see that part of the world as a soldier. It would be grand to see it as a visitor but not so good under military discipline. I prefer England any time."
Merlin's letters date as late as 1944, and in one he talks about being homesick. It appears he was posted in England the entire time, as a sergeant (once complaining how he wasn't getting the promotion to sergeant major he should be getting) and in the records department.