Posted on | November 11, 2011 | 1 Comment
This letter really sparked my obsession with letters from the Great War. It was written months after the war ended, by a Canadian soldier still in England. This was a familiar story for Canadians. The Canadian government was afraid of the chaos thousands of returning soldiers would cause and dragged their feet on bringing them home. The delays were compounded by the British government when it committed the liners used as troop ships to ship American troops home first, all in the name of Anglo-American relations, which meant the Canadians were left to sit in camps for months longer than should have. Some didn’t return until spring of 1919, stuck in camps, while the rest of the world got on with restarting their lives.
William Clyde McDiarmid was born in Carleton Place, Ontario (53km southwest of Ottawa) in 1883. He was a 32 year old, married civil engineer when he joined up in 1915. He left behind a wife and child he wouldn’t see for 4 years. When he sent this letter, he was still recovering from wounds and expected to be at least a year recouperating.
The letter was sent to Mrs. Charles Sumner, a member of a group of New Orleans women who formed the British Service Red Cross Club. When the war began, years before America joined the conflict, this stalwart group of women wrote to allied troops, sent care packages and held teas for visiting British sailors. Canadian, French, British soldiers received a steady stream of letters, cigarettes and other items that were “thoroughly enjoyed “. I’m not sure how many soldiers the group corresponded with, or how they picked who to write; information on them is pretty sparse. Not only did Mrs Sumner write to the troops, she engaged in a lively correspondence with their family members as well. I have a thoroughly delightful letter from the mother of a British sailor thanking Mrs Sumner for taking care of her boy while he was in New Orleans. . I’ll tell you more about Mrs. Sumner in my next post. She deserves an entire entry just for herself.
Dear Charlie and Mrs. Sumner
The box with cigarettes etc, arrived O.K and I want to thank you so much for your kindness in thinking of me. I thoroughly enjoyed them especially the cigarettes as there are times here when cigarettes can’t be purchased and your parcel arrived at one of those times, so you can imagine my delight on seeing the smokes. I also received your letter re (?) parcel in the Post office in London. I wrote them and just had a reply saying they had sent it to me in Epson. I don’t think I shall ever receive it now as it will have too many hands to pass through to get here and a good many of them are very light fingers. However I thank you just the same as it is really very kind of you.
Whilst I am about it I also must thank you for your kindness to Hilda and baby, as Hilda has written me of how kind you have been to them. I only wish she could have taken advantage of your kind invitation, as I am sure she would have had a delightful time, and the change would have been very beneficial to both of them. I have changed my address once again which is the last resting place before embarking for Canada the Canadian Discharge Depot. I don’t know how long I shall be here, but I hope not very long as I am anxious to get back home. I am getting along nicely now, but the Doctor told me I would be a year getting back to normal again. But I don’t mind that as I am mighty lucky to be here at all.
If either of you ever have a few spare moments I should be glad to hear from you, as it does one good to hear from God’s Country. Again, thanking you for your kindness and, with best regards to you and family.
While researching Sgt McDiarmid, I stumbled across this:
So Sgt McDiarmid made it home to Hilda and baby and in 1921 and took Mrs Sumner up on her invitation to visit New Orleans. I’ve never been able to find out Baby’s name. I fear it will remain a mystery forever.