The letters written home by our lads overseas were poignant reminders of how far away they were and how distant their experiences were from their loved ones’ lives. Promises of return; accounts of homesickness, battles, and life overseas; and reminiscences of home were contained within the lines that were scribbled while on leave or away from the front. Mostly they were written to convey one important, unspoken message – ‘I’m alive.’
The following letters were written by or about Kenora lads to their families, friends or community. Often these letters were published in the local newspaper so that the whole town could share in the news.
We are grateful to the young men of Beaver Brae Secondary School and St. Thomas Aquinas High School for lending their voices and a touch of authenticity to these recordings. Our thanks, as well to Wayne Kelso, for his production work on these letters.
Edward Alcock was born in Rat Portage (Kenora) in 1896. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in May 1915 at the age of 19. After completing his training he joined a mortar unit in France in the following spring. Ed Alcock sent this letter to his siblings after a year in the field in June 1917.
William Bush was born in Derby, England in 1876 and immigrated to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway around 1904. Bush married Mildred Yeomans in 1915, and his son William Bush, Jr. was born the following year. Bush enlisted in the army as a musician in 1916 and eventually found his way to the 10th Battalion band in France. Mildred Bush received this letter on 23 May 1917.
Mason Button was born in Rat Portage (Kenora) in 1892. He was working as a brakeman on the railway when he enlisted in 1914. Button was a local militia member and was among the first in Kenora to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. It was just after the Battle of Mount Sorrel in 1916 that Mason Button was hit. Button’s parents received this notice in July 1916.
Roderick Cameron was born in English River, Ontario and was living outside of Kenora when he enlisted in December 1914. Once in England he was transferred to the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion. Rod Cameron sent this letter to local Indian Agent R.S. McKenzie in November 1915.
George Carmichael was born in Rat Portage (Kenora) in 1893 and first joined the militia in 1908 at the age of 15. He signed as an officer in the 94th Regiment in 1916. After arriving in England, Carmichael was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps where he trained as a reconnaissance pilot. He sent this letter just before Christmas, 1916.
Hector Currie was 17 years old when he enlisted to fight in May 1915. By February 1916 he was with the 52nd Battalion in France. He sent this letter to his older brother John in March 1916.
Hilliard Dusang was born in Fesserton, Ontario and moved with his family to Kenora in 1910. He signed up with the 94th Battalion in Kenora on 4 November 1915, two weeks after his 18th birthday. He was the first man from Kenora to join the 94th Battalion. After an illness he was sent to the 13th Canadian Machine Gun Company in January 1917. On 30 March 1917 he sent his friend Arnold this letter.
James Fullford was working on the Canadian Pacific Railway as a conductor before he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in February 1917. In a letter to the Kenora Daily Miner and News he related his Christmas experience in 1917.
Simon Gourevitch was born on 16 May 1885 in Smolensk, Russia. He immigrated to Canada in 1909 and by 1914 he was living in the town of Kenora. When the First World War began he was among the first 40 volunteers from Kenora. He was wounded by gas at the 2nd Battle of Ypres, but then survived the rest of the war without a scratch. In June of 1915 he wrote this letter to his cousin, Mrs. Rosen.
Walter Gowsell was born in Belleville, Ontario in 1882 and moved to Kenora in 1905. He was working as a conductor on the railway when he enlisted in April 1916. His letter from 5 May 1917 describes his time at the front.
In 1914 Frank Iriam was one of the early volunteers, training with the 98th Regiment in his hometown of Kenora, Ontario in August and then enlisting with the 8th Battalion CEF at Valcartier, Quebec in September. Five months later he arrived in France with his unit. He survived three and a half years as a frontline soldier, sniper and scout.
In 1915 Frank wrote a letter to his friend, F.C. Munt, describing daily life in the trenches.
Another letter from Frank, written from ‘somewhere in France’ in October of 1917 was published in the local newspaper.
Andrew Jones immigrated from Scotland to Canada in 1913, settling in Keewatin. He enlisted in Kenora with the 94th Battalion in February 1916. In England he was transferred to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders) and arrived in France just before the 43rd was sent to the Somme. On 2 December 1916, Jones sent this letter to the people of Kenora.
George Maluish was born in Rat Portage (Kenora) in 1894 and was working as a trainman when he enlisted with the 52nd Battalion in 1915. In July 1916 he was shot in the chest in the Ypres salient. His parents subsequently received this letter.
Martin, Rev. John
Reverend John Martin was trained as an Anglican minister and began serving in the ministry in 1910. When war broke out in 1914, Martin enlisted as a stretcher bearer with the 10th Field Ambulance. News of his death was conveyed in a few letters.
Kenora Daily Miner and News, 26 June 1918:
‘The following account of the death in action of Lieut. Moses Oliver of the 44th Battalion, and a former well-known resident of Kenora, is by Capt. G. Farquhar, who occupied the pulpit of the United Church on Sunday last.’
Mrs. F. Parfitt, Keewatin, received the following letter from Major G.H. Weld, 90th Rifles, when he was recuperating after receiving wounds in France on 20 September 1916, the same day that Company Sergeant Major David G. Parfitt went missing and was believed dead.
Fred Sawkins was born in Warwickshire, England and immigrated to Canada in 1911. He was working as a fireman on the railway when he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in January 1916. In December 1916 he wrote…
Major Sidney Wilcox was working for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Kenora when he enlisted in 1916. By 1917 he was in France and in June he wrote this letter to his daughter Gertrude on the occasion of her sixth birthday.