Thursday, 1 November 2012

Letters from the Front - Remembering the Great War 1914-1918

Throughout the month of November we will be posting excerpts from a selection of wartime correspondence between Pte. Sefton Stewart of the 77th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, and his family in Richmond, Ontario.  The complete letters will be on display at the Stittsville Public Library in the Museum's exhibit honouring Goulbourn in wartime. In addition to Sefton Stewart's letters, there will also be local artefacts from that era, and a book containing the names of local Veterans. These men and women were either born in Goulbourn or were long-time residents of the area. If you should find there is a Veteran from Goulbourn who is not listed, please let us know - we welcome additions to this collection.

Sefton was 17-years-old when he joined the war effort.  His father was James Stewart, whose occupations included undertaker, carriage maker, farmer and one-time reeve of the village.  His mother was Margaret (McLean) Stewart.  Sefton’s family home was at 39 Perth Street in Richmond.

The Goulbourn Museum gratefully acknowledges the kind donation of these First World War letters from Mrs. Mary (Seabrook) Munro, niece of Sefton Stewart.  Her family preserved these letters for 93 years.

The correspondence covers a period from 1916 to 1918 and demonstrates in a very human way the huge sacrifices made by these young men and their families, the devastation of the European cities and countryside and the intolerable loss of life suffered by families and by countries who saw so many of its youth killed on the battlefields of Europe.  These letters capture the feel of the period in a way no history book can attempt to replicate.

Here is the first excerpt:

July 2, 1916 - Stationed at Bramskott Camp, England
Dear Mother:

     How is everybody?  As for me, I am quite well.  There are so many things to tell, I don’t know what to tell first.  Wrote two letters on ship but didn’t get posting them because it was reported no letters to be mailed within four days after out arrival.  Did you get the cablegram we sent?

     We had a very good trip; the weather being fine, except for the first two days which were foggy.  A great many were sick, Sid and Arthur were sick for half a day, but we were all dizzy at first.  Left Halifax Tuesday morning, arrived in England Thursday, the 28th.  Our ship, the Missanabie, Empress of Britain, and the Drake, a man-of-war, sailed together.  Saw quite a few ships.  The Drake guarded them off. 

     Came into Liverpool Harbour Thursday night.  It is a very large harbour, being crowded with ships.  From Liverpool to Bramshott Camp, it is a bushy country, divided up here and there with farms, cultivated mostly by women.

     Bramshott Camp is so large you could easily get lost, there being about 40,000 troops stationed here.  Saw Percy Foster out of the 89th and Michael Fox out of the 38th, both being very glad to see us.  We are crowded, about 15 in each tent, making it very hard to move around.

     On the 1st of July there was an inspection of all these troops by the King at Hinhead, eight miles from our camp.  A company of the 77th went as a guard.  Being the first time to see the King, it was something wonderful to see such a gathering of troops.

     The second day we were here there was an inspection by Lord Brooks, Commander of this camp.  A lot of the Battalions have been divided, but we haven’t been yet.  On ship we only had a little physical drill in the mornings.  On our ship there were 1800 soldiers; a person would never imagine all the works and machinery there is about a ship.  There were four sittings each meal, there being accommodation for 450 each sitting.

     The weather is very changeable, raining frequently.  Our first night in camp it rained all night.  We are surrounded by villages, two and three miles away.  There are some deep valleys giving a fine view of the country.  The north coast of Ireland was our first sight of land which we were all anxious to see.  The rocky coast is all divided off into small patches and the grass is very green.  When we came into the dangerous zone, we were met by three torpedo destroyers, a long, low little boat which has very high speed.  These stopped with us until we reached England.

     I guess I will write all afternoon as it is our only time, but will have to take in some of the sports which are going on.  Must write to Clystal.  Canadian mail goes Monday and Thursday.

Best love to all,

Pte.  Sefton Stewart
77 Battalion
A Co. No. 1 Platoon
Bramshott camp
c/o Army Post Office London, England

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