Our most recent Telling Our Stories features the article, “Embroidered Cards: Unraveling the Past.” The article touches upon the history of these lovely and very personal mementos soldiers from the trenches of the Great War sent to loved ones back home. The three postcards from our collection are from two different soldiers but all of them are addressed to the same person – “Jeannie.” While we were able to determine that the two soldiers were most likely Private Robert Bruce Leslie and Lieutenant John Pringle, we could not figure out who was their “dear little friend, Jeannie.”
Luckily, good friend of the SPRA, Margaret Bowes, was able to tell us. “Little” Jeannie was Margaret’s mother, Jean Emilie Alexander O’Brien. Jean was born in 1906 and was one of five surviving children of William Alexander (originally from Scotland) and Emilie Dannhauer of Pembroke, Ontario. Jean was only ten when her mother died of Bight’s Disease and shortly after, watched as friends and family, including Bob Leslie, walked away from the family farm to enlist in the war. Jean later told her children, “My memory is one of sadness.” She knew she’d never see her friends again and she never did.
Little Jeannie became a teacher, married and had three children. Widowed at a young age, she taught at Appleton until 1942, when she moved to Grande Prairie. She then continued her career at Montrose School and the Grande Prairie Composite High School until retiring in 1975. Jean was also very involved in the Grande Prairie music festival and served as church organist for the United Church for many years. She died in 2001 and is buried in the Grande Prairie Cemetery. You can find out more about her and her family in the family papers held at the SPRA in the Alexander Family fonds 572. You can read more about the postcards in the September issue of Telling Our Stories, available on our website.
Thank you to Margaret Bowes for passing this information on to us, as well as a transcript of a letter from Jack Pringle to Bill Alexander (from The Trenches, Sept 12, 1915), and an explanatory Addendum written by Jeannie’s youngest daughter, Erin O’Brien Woolley.
Top image: An embroidered card from World War I, “To my dear little friend Jeannie from Bob Leslie with best wishes for a merry Xmas and Happy new year.” (SPRA 1996.5.3)
Second Battle of Ypres (April 1915)
Ypres was the only significant Belgian town remaining in Allied hands, and it was here that the Canadians took part in their first major engagement. It was also at Ypres that the Germans launched the first gas attack of the war. The Canadian troops earned the reputation of being staunch and stalwart soldiers, but at the cost of some 6,000 soldiers over the course of the four day battle. Also of note, In Flanders Fields was penned by John McCrae at the Second Battle of Ypres.
For more information on the Second Battle of Ypres, visit Ypres: The Cost of Valour.
Image source: All About Canadian History
St. Eloi Craters (April 1916)
When the Canadian troops arrived to relieve the British, they found few trenches to occupy, but rather inhabited the enormous mud-filled mine craters. After two weeks under heavy enemy fire, aerial photographs revealed the unfavorable positions and the battle was halted. No progress was made in this atrocious attack where one man reported “we were walking on dead soldiers.”
Image source: Kenora Great War Project
Mont Sorrel (June 1916)
In this battle, it was the Germans who attacked. Mont Sorrel was a strategic and commanding position overlooking the city of Ypres. The Canadian positions were devastated in the early days of the battle, and the Germans took over the hill. However, the Canadians were determined to gain back the ground they had lost, and with careful planning were able to do just that. The Battle of Mont Sorrel lasted almost two weeks and the Canadians suffered more than 8,000 casualties.
Image source: The Vimy Foundation
The Somme (July – November 1916)
The Somme offensive lasted five months (though the Canadians were involved only in the final three months) and consisted of many ‘smaller’ battles, including Beaumont Hamel, Courcelette, Thiepval, Ancre Heights, and Regina Trench. The offensive ended in a complete stalemate in which each side suffered over 600,000 casualties.
For more information on the South Peace region’s contribution during the Somme offensive, visit Remembering the Somme
Image source: Canadian War Museum
Courcelette (September 1916)
The first time tanks were used in World War I was at Courcelette, where they accompanied the Canadian troops to assist with cutting barbed wire and subduing enemy machine gun fire. Courcelette was a rare victory for the Allies at the Somme, and was captured in one day, but cost the Canadians several thousand casualties.
Image source: Canadian War Museum
Vimy Ridge (April 1917)
The Battle of Vimy Ridge is considered to have been a turning point in Canadian history. For the first time in the Great War, all four Canadian divisions were fighting together. And with meticulous planning and intense training, they were able to take the ridge that no other Allies had been able to capture. The Canadian Corps suffered close to 11,000 losses, but the victory inspired a new sense of independence and national pride that is still present in Canadians today.
For more information on the South Peace region’s contributions at Vimy Ridge, visit The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge
Image source: The Canadian Encyclopedia
Hill 70 (August 1917)
In August of 1917, General Currie and his Canadian Corps were ordered to attack the city of Lens, France. But Currie considered it a far better strategy to capture the high ground just north of the city – Hill 70. He was correct. The hill was captured on the first day of the battle, and in the following four days, the Canadians withstood twenty-one German counter-attacks and held onto the hill. Lens itself, however, remained in German hands until their final retreat in 1918.
For more information on the South Peace region’s contributions at Hill 70, visit Forgotten Triumph: the Battle of Hill 70
Image source: Canadian War Museum
Passchendaele (October/November 1917)
Passchendaele was a horrible bog of shell holes, mud, and bodies. After months of fighting, and no success having been made, the British commander-in-chief ordered the Canadians to relieve the Australians and New Zealand troops. After careful planning, the Canadian troops attacked the ridge. The battle lasted more than two weeks and resulted in a staggering 15,654 casualties for the Canadians.
Image source: Canadian War Museum
Canal du Nord (September 1918)
Construction of the Canal du Nord had begun in 1913, but was halted when the war began. During their retreat, the Germans flooded a large portion of the canal, leaving only a small dry section. But even that was a significant obstacle, with an embankment up to fifteen feet high. The Canadian Engineers spent almost a month building a bridge across the canal in preparation for the attack. The canal was captured, and the path was open for Allies to seize other strong points, sending the Germans into full retreat.
Image source: Wikipedia
Mons (November 1918)
The day the Canadians liberated Mons also marked the end of the war. It was from this Belgian city that the British had staged a fighting retreat at the beginning of the war, and now the Canadians had the honour of taking the city back. Rumours abounded that the war was about to end, but the Canadian Corps had been ordered to attack Mons, and so they did. The troops fought their way through town – under constant machine gun fire – and when the battle finally ceased, the civilians poured out to celebrate with their liberators.
Image source: Canadian War Museum
We all take for granted the ready availability of quality produce throughout the year, though we still look forward to the arrival of fresh Okanagan peaches, cherries, apples, and pears in the late summer and autumn months. In 1917, a refrigerator was secured to ensure “the quality of the fruit and the cheapest price yet seen in the North” for the first time. The Crummy Brothers, who would be receiving this shipment, expected the fresh fruits to be in great demand and advised that orders were placed ahead of time for the desired type and quantity of fruit. No doubt their expectations were proven correct – it was preserving season, after all!
Photograph: Andress family showing the results of a day of berry picking, 1919
The Great War Gala is now only a month away, so today we have ten trends from the 1910s to get you started on your wardrobe journey. Don’t forget to visit the Archives to purchase your tickets!
Lucky for our male attendees, men’s fashion has remained largely unchanged since the 1910s. Consider the Great War Gala the perfect opportunity to purchase the new suit you have been eyeing.
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 2 April 1918
The men of Clairmont knew to visit Coblentz’s store for the most up-to-date hats. The Great War Gala takes place only a handful of weeks before Halloween – visit any costume to add a hat and cane to your evening outfit.
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 9 April 1918
You may not be returning to Oxford in the fall, but you can still embrace the pastel summer tones, showcased here in Testament of Youth. Add a belt over a pastel top to create a low-effort 1910s look, direct from your wardrobe.
Source: Testament of Youth (The Telegraph)
The fashionable folk of the 1910s purchased new shoes for sports and social outings. As leather prices increased during the war years, canvas shoes became a popular alternative. Many modern flats still follow these trends!
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 22 June 1917
Although it may be difficult to locate in today’s department stores, a straw hat would have been a staple in the fashionable man’s summer wardrobe.
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 1 June 1917
Consider adding an Edwardian hat to your colourful frock. To DIY this look, purchase a large summer hat on clearance and cover it with inexpensive fabric. For extra flair, consider adding feathers, ribbons, or flowers.
Source: Mr Selfridge (PBS Masterpiece)
Delaine for Days
Delaine is a lightweight fabric of wool or wool blend made in prints or solid colors. This fabric was ideal for creating clothing items from scratch. If you are feeling ambitious, consider visiting a local fabric store and purchasing materials to create your outfit “the old fashioned way.” You can find plenty of 1910s sewing patterns online.
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 9 April 1918
“Sport Shoes with Sport Clothes… That’s the vogue.” Recreate this ensemble by wrapping a colorful scarf around a long jacket. Secure your new belt with a large broach and voila!
Source: Lake Saskatoon Journal, 4 July 1917
No garden party ensemble would be complete without a pair of white gloves. Many costume shops stock these gloves for Halloween, so you can likely find them with little difficulty.
Source: Downton Abbey (PBS Masterpiece)
Layers for Ladies
The 1910s upper class ladies began their day by donning numerous layers of undergarments. For true historical accuracy, be sure to don each undergarment (and a corset, of course). You’ll be classy, but not necessarily comfortable.
Source: “Svensk-tysk ordbok” (Wikimedia Commons)
Last Thursday, the Grande Prairie city council unveiled a plaque to commemorate the historical significance of the Montrose site, home of the Montrose Cultural Centre. Grande Prairie Museum curator Charles Taws presented a brief history of the site, aided by records from the South Peace Regional Archives. The plaque features a photograph from the SPRA collections.
The Montrose site was donated by Rev. Alexander and Agnes Forbes, who were among the first settlers of Grande Prairie. Charles Taws celebrated their contribution at the plaque unveiling: “Rev. Forbes was a keen advocate of literacy and education. He always kept a shelf of books at the front of his church for parishioners to borrow… I think Rev. and Mrs. Forbes would be very proud to see how their gift of this land has developed and helped to make Grande Prairie the vibrant community it is today.”
In 1917, when the first Montrose School was built, it was the largest brick building north of Edmonton. In 1922, the building was was expanded using locally sources bricks from Dalen Brickyard. Montrose School served the entire student population of Grande Prairie until the Grande Prairie High School (now the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie) was built in 1929. The building continued as Montrose Elementary until ca. 1970, when it was torn down.
The architect and builder was Charles Spencer, a member of the Argonauts Company which established “Grande Prairie City.” His papers, including the original blueprints of Montrose School, are housed at South Peace Regional Archives. The Montrose School appears in many photographs in the SPRA collections.
Browse related finding aids:
Fonds 572 Alexander Family fonds
Fonds 356 Charles Spencer fonds
Fonds 518 Montrose Junior High School fonds
Fonds 190 Panda Camera
Browse digitized photographs related to the Montrose site online at Alberta on Record.
South Peace Regional Archives is seeking applicants for the position of Archives Technician on a part-time basis from 1 November 2017 – 27 April 2018.
The purpose of the South Peace Regional Archives is to gather, preserve, and share the historical records of municipalities, organizations, businesses, families and individuals within the region, both now and in the future. These records reflect the personal, cultural, social, economic, and political life of the South Peace River area of Alberta and are in all formats and media, including textual records, maps, plans, drawings, photographs, film and sound recordings.
The Archives Technician contributes to that purpose by processing archival records so that they are available for public research, and by providing public education regarding the importance of archives. The Archives Technician may be required to assist researchers, volunteers, associated organizations, and archives staff with projects and other duties, as assigned. The Archives Technician works with the Archivist and reports to the Executive Director.
For full posting, visit SouthPeaceArchives.org/Careers
When Arthur Buck enlisted in Lake Saskatoon in 1915, he donated a little brown bear – who was dubbed ‘Lady Saskatoon’ – for the company’s mascot. Unfortunately, no mention has been found of the little bear’s war experience.
Rin Tin Tin & Nanette
These two German Shepherd puppies were rescued in France by an American corporal in 1918. He named them after the very popular French good luck charms, Rintintin and Nenette. Rin Tin Tin became a television star in the USA after the war, as did some of his descendants.
Image Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Known as “Winnie”, this black bear cub was bought by Canadian cavalry veterinarian, Harry Colebourn, on his way to Valcartier. The cub accompanied Colebourn to England, where she resided at London Zoo. It was “Winnie” who was the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh.
Source: Wikipedia – Winnipeg
Cher Ami was a carrier pigeon who was awarded the Croix de Guerre. On October 3, 1918, she saved the lives of 194 American soldiers by delivering her urgent message to headquarters despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and losing a leg.
During the Gallipoli campaign, Australian John Simpson spent three and a half weeks fearlessly transporting wounded soldiers on the backs of donkeys. He used at least five different donkeys, named “Duffy No. 1”, “Duffy No. 2”, “Murphy”, “Queen Elizabeth”, and “Abdul”. Simpson’s work was often done under fire, which led to his death on May 19, 1915.
Bonfire & Bonneau
John McCrae, the author of “In Flanders Fields”, was deeply affected by his war experiences. To assuage his grief, he spent long hours riding his horse, Bonfire, around the French countryside. His other special companion was his spaniel, Bonneau. Bonneau often accompanied McCrae while he made his rounds at the hospital.
Source: Veterans Affairs Canada
Image Source: Canada’s Great War Album
On their journey across Canada, and ultimately to Europe, the 49th Battalion stopped in Lestock, Saskatchewan. There, a well-wisher gave the men a coyote pup. They adopted him as their mascot and named him after the town. Today Lestock’s face appears in the centre of the unit’s badge.
Nan, a white goat, was the mascot of the 21st Battalion. She was known throughout Belgium and France, and became the first mascot to cross the Rhine in 1918.
Source: The 21st Battalion CEF
Little is known about Togo the cat, but the photo of him sitting inside an enormous gun on the HMS Dreadnought is quite famous. Ship’s cats were, of course, very useful for rodent control.
This black cat belonged to the crew of the tank Daphne. Percy went into action with Harry Drader, one of the crew, who was later awarded the Military Cross. Percy became famous for being in the 1917 war film entitled “The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks”. After the war, Percy resided at the Drader home.
Researchers often look for documents to help them answer their research questions. Often though, documents raise more questions than they answer. The 1820 Will of John Davis is an example. Most genealogy websites or historical websites that write about John Davis, HBC Factor and Master from 1803 to 1824, state that he and his wife Nancy (or Ann) had five children: Ann Nancy, Francis (Elizabeth?), Mathilda, Catherine, and George. And yet, in his will, John Davis writes;
“And my will and desire is that in case of the death of my wife or the death of one or more of our children the interest or annuity arising from the above mentioned money shall be applied as aforesaid for the use of the survivor or survivors of my children and further my will and desire is that on the death of all my aforesaid children then and in that case I give and bequeath the whole of my money aforesaid to the issue of my two sons John and William and to their heirs forever.”
The question is – who are these two sons and why are they the last on the list of heirs? Davis names them as his sons but not as one of “our children” (his and Nancy’s). A historian from Winnipeg has been researching the Davis-Hodgson families for several years and notes that HBC records indicate that a William Davis arrived at Portage des Chats in 1818, possibly as a clerk. This was the home town of John Hodgson, John Davis’s father-in-law. Of John Davis the younger, we currently have no clues.
This is only one of many questions this document raises. To hear more about this document and others curated from the records at the South Peace Regional Archives, come out to our presentation at the Grande Prairie Public Library Friday, 15 September 2017 at 1200 noon in the Rotary Room.
To help you get into the heads of those who experienced the Great War, first-hand and second-hand, check out ten books published between 1915 and 1918. Written by Canadian, American, British, French, and Hungarian authors, these texts are examples of the conflicted ideas about war in general and the Great War Itself. The writing style is somewhat different to our modern sensibilities, being somewhat narrative heavy, but once you settle into them, I think you’ll find the experience rewarding.
All of these books are available online at various sites. The links are provided.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Published in 1915, this American feminist novel explores the world of an all-woman society through the eyes of three men who discover it. The novel explores themes of motherhood, gender roles, and individuality as the three men adjust to their new life in Herland. The absence of violence and war are one of the notable features of this society, a topic that must have felt close to home as Gilman followed the war in Europe, a war the United States had yet to join. I read this book almost thirty years ago and it is still relevant today.
Aunt Jane’s Nieces in the Red Cross. This is one of a series of Aunt Jane’s Nieces books by Frank L. Baum, most well-known for his Oz books. It tells the story of three young women who volunteer to work overseas with wounded soldiers, long before the United States joined the foreign war. As a young adult novel, Baum reflected, “I wish I might have depicted more gently the scenes in hospital and on battlefield, but it is well that my girl readers should realize something of the horrors of war, that they may unite with heart and soul in earnest appeal for universal, lasting Peace and the future abolition of all deadly strife.” A good read to get a female perspective of the war.
A Bride of the Plains. Written by the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel, this romance takes place in Hungary and opens on draft day, a day when all the young men of twenty one are sent to fight in Bosnia “where ever that is.” Emmuska Orzky’s narrator tells the story of Elsa, separated from her lover, Andors by the draft, and how she navigates her life over the three years he is away. This is a good read to understand the Great War from the Eastern European point of view.
Under Fire, by French soldier, Henri Barbusse, is the fictionalized version of his first-hand experience with trench warfare. The novel takes the form of a journal. The writing is brutally realistic as the story follows a squad of French soldiers on the Western front in France after the German invasion. Barbusse served for 17 months on the front lines before being invalided out of active service. Like many soldiers, he became a staunch pacifist. His novel was widely criticized, especially after the war when the first rush of patriotic war novels were published. For an unflinching look at the war from those who really were fighting for life and country, this is the book to read.
Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery. Published during the Great War, this part of Anne Shirley’s, now Blythe, story takes place years before the war. Anne and Gilbert are married and living in their “house of dreams,” meeting new people and experiencing the heartbreak and joys of starting a family. The novel must have seemed a refreshing antidote to the battles raging in Europe. While writing, however, Montgomery and her minister husband spoke at recruitment meetings and ministered families whose sons, brothers, and fathers had died in the war.
Oh, Canada! A Medley of Stories, Verse, Pictures & Music. The product of various authors living at the front (or maybe not, according to the Salut! Which introduces the book) this medley is exactly that – humourous stories, poems, songs and drawings reflecting on the overseas experience. The soldiers write and draw about homesickness, the French soldiers, front-line nurses, and writing poetry in the trenches. Bright in its dark humour, this little gem provides insight into the how Canadian soldiers viewed and dealt with their battlefield life. The CEF Alphabet on page 62-63 is not to be missed.
Poems from the Press – by Canadian Henry A. Ashmead is a combination of patriotic, historical and humorous poems. Writing about the war, Ashmead calls women to duty, exalts soldiers and sailors, stresses the importance of honouring political agreements, praises Serbia, and chastises Germany. Poetry often gets to the heart of sentiment and opinion and these poems definitely catch the patriotic fever gripping many Canadians and most publications at the time.
Counter-Attack and Other Poems – by Seigfried Sassoon, a decorated British soldier and poet. An antidote to Ashmead’s unabashed patriotism, Sassoon’s poetry both described the horrors of the trenches, and satirized patriotic jingoism. His poems are haunting with sometime explosive bursts of anger:
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
Excerpt from “Suicide in the Trenches”
Sassoon’s poems let the reader know that hell where his generation’s youth and laughter went.
The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rhinehold. The American author penned this novel about a shy young girl, Sara Lee, who manages, with some help from Methodist ladies and Englishmen, to get herself overseas to nurse soldiers because she believes it is the right thing to do. Eventually, she is “dragged” back home from by fiancé. In Sara Lee’s point of view, the war, where she developed skills and friends, was the amazing interlude from the unhappy life she was destined for back home. This is another great story about a woman’s experience of the war.
Maria Chapdelaine – first serialized in France, this French-Canadian pastoral by Louis Hémon is often viewed as a rebuke to English-Canadian arrogance towards Canada’s French-speaking citizens during the Great War. The novel celebrates the French and largely Roman Catholic sentiments toward a quiet, country life where family and family obligations are paramount. This is a great book for gaining some insight into the anti-war sentiment in Quebec that helped precipitate the conscription crisis.
If you watched the movie, The Wipers Times, and loved it, check out the Canadiana website for Canada’s own versions of the famous trench journal: