Monday, November 11, 2013

On Remembrance Day.

As longtime readers of this blog may recall, I always post something for Remembrance Day. In this year's Remembrance Day post, I'd like to highlight the work of the Canadian Letters and Images Project (CLIP), an invaluable online archive of Canadian soldiers' letters, photographs, and related materials based at Vancouver Island University. Like the letters featured in a Remembrance Day tribute that I discussed here last year, the CLIP website helps to make an ever-more distant past a bit more vivid.

For your reading this year on Remembrance Day, I'd like to share a letter from the CLIP website. This letter was written by the young soldier whose portrait illustrates this post, James Henderson Fargey of Belmont, Manitoba, who enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in July 1915 at the age of seventeen. On Sunday, October 1, 1916, Fargey wrote home from the Western Front:
My Dear Mother,

I rec' your long interesting letter to-day and was very pleased to hear from you. I also rec' a long one from Della Lawson.

I was very sorry to hear that Mr. Smillie had passed away. It will certainly be a shock to the family and when Bert is over in England and physically unfit.

We are having beautiful weather now, especially to-day the sun is shining and but the nights are very cool.

I am glad to hear that Mr. Jon Williamson is around and hope that Arthur will soon be able to around as one invalid in a Family is enough.

Was sorry to hear that you had little wheat but if the price keeps up it won’t seem to be so bad. I suppose flour is up in Fran price and will likely be up all winter.

We get good bread here and general enough; but now and again there are short rations. The Germans use black bread and you should see some of them eat our white bread. They work on the roads around here and get so much a day. They seem to be well satisfied.

So you are getting the house painted as it will make quite an improvement on it.

I guess the club will be successful alright and I hope that Aileen and Cecil are successful.

I rec' the parcel of papers the other day and have enjoyed reading them as we have been stayed at this camp for couple of days.

So Cecil and Aileen have plenty of homework to do now. Cecil certainly must have worked pretty hard for this age. I guess you have had some time with Wintie Smith.

I enjoyed your letter to-day and thank you for the scripture chapters I read my chapter every night when I can.

While I was in Bramshott I sent a scarf to London to Leslie Smith's grandmother for to keep for me as I had one when I came over and she is going to send it over as it get rather cool in the evening.

We had service this morning and communion after the service. Major Gordon is certainly a good minister and is well liked among the boys.

Arthur, Leslie and myself were at communion the generally hold service out in the open. I wrote to Willie Lawson to-day as he had sent me some clippings on behalf of the Bible Class.

I haven't rec the parcel yet but expect it any day now.

Well this is about all the news I have to tell Remember me to all.

From you loving Son

Jim Fargey

PS Your last letter was dated Sep 11th
One thing that strikes me about the above letter is its immediacy: despite the passage of nearly a century, the hometown situations that Fargey describes - a neighbor's death, children's homework, a new coat of paint on the family home - still seem familiar to a twenty-first century reader. Fargey writes nothing about combat and very little that is specific to military life, a reticence that may be influenced by army cenorship: all soldiers' letters were read by military authorities before being mailed, and soldiers were discouraged from writing about troop movements or combat conditions. At the same time, keeping the focus on the homefront could have been a way of making up for the geographical distance between a young soldier and his family. Fargey's words seem all the more poignant when one learns that the Manitoba eighteen-year-old died barely two weeks after finishing this letter, on October 15, 1916. After being wounded in action, Fargey sent one last letter home promising his mother that "there is no danger at all" and assuring her that "I will get alright." When Fargey died two days later, a nurse who cared for him wrote to his mother: "He was one of the finest lads I have ever seen & an absolute hero. . . . It may be a little comfort to you to know that everything that was possible was done for your boy & now that all the soldiers graves are well kept I shall put flowers on your boys cross with your love."

On this Remembrance Day, ninety-five years after the end of the "War to End All Wars," I pray for peace - and I express the hope that the stories of those who gave their lives in military service will never be forgotten. AMDG.


At 11/12/2013 12:00 PM, Anonymous Stephen Davies said...

Thank you for taking the time to read the lttters and to share them with others. For me the letters put a human face to war and remind us that those casualty figures are individuals just like us, with hopes and dreams, loves and ambitions. It reminds us too that they were someone's son, father, brother, or friend, and more than just a name on a cenotaph.
Dr. Stephen Davies
Project Director
The Canadian Letters and Images Project

At 11/13/2013 11:35 AM, Blogger Lynda said...

What a powerful post! I am so moved by the human face that you have been able to present to us in spite of the passing of time. We must never forget how war affects each person in the world for we are all connected and when one suffers, we all suffer.

I also couldn't help thinking of Teihard de Chardin as he wrote about being in the trenches and having nothing for the celebration of Mass so he offered the world to our Lord. That comes to me every time I attend Mass.

At 11/13/2013 7:44 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Dr. Davies,

Thank you for the comment - I completely agree with you regarding the significance of the letters, and I'm grateful to you for making them available to the public. I hope, too, that sharing one of the letters here will inspire some readers to seek to read more of them.

At 11/13/2013 7:47 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thanks for that - if you haven't read them, Teilhard's war letters (collected in a book called The Making of a Mind) are also worth reading; they provide a vivid picture of life on the front as well as giving something of his intellectual and spiritual response to the experience.


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