Letters Home: Maritimers and the Great War, 1914-1918 edited by Ross Hebb

This is a real gem of a book and one that any Canadian interested in WWI would enjoy to read; Maritimers especially since all the letters are from soldiers (and a nurse) from Atlantic Canada. Ross Hebb has done a masterful job of editing, collecting and categorizing quite a number of private letters donated by family members to create this insightful, at times entertaining and thoughtful book.

The year 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, and it is very insightful to look back to an age when paper and pen was the ‘social media’ of the day and was the only way to keep in touch over long distances.

Each of these letters (and some are quite lengthy) cover emotions such as excitement (finally getting overseas!), fear of the unknown, loneliness (from being separated from loved ones), sadness (over losing a ‘chum’ in battle) and finally exhaustion and disbelief when the guns ceased firing on November 11, 1918.

All organised chronologically and with each chapter introduced by a brief text, we travel with the letter writers as they travel from Canada to England, then on to France, Belgium and ultimately, Germany. There are also 20 photographs of some of the writers, their families, postcards, and present day memorials.

I really enjoyed reading this book. After reading several letters written by the same soldier, you feel as if you get to know them, and are seeing the war through their eyes. Often, there is a sense of frustration on the part of the letter writer to convey just what the war looks like to them and how to describe it to the folks back home. Many do not even try for fear of causing their loved ones undue worry, which is understandable. As the editor mentions in the introduction:

“The men speak to us in their own words with a vitality, a humility, and a touching sense of innocence which seems to dispel the intervening years which separate us from them.”

Mr. Hebb ends the book with a poignant afterword and includes a selected bibliography for further reading. This book makes a perfect complement to “Those Splendid Girls” which is about PEI nurses in WWI. It is reviewed here.

See also  Generations: The Sobey Family and Canadian Art, edited by Sarah Milroy

Letters Home : Maritimers and the Great War, 1914-1918
Edited by: Ross Hebb

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Mahrie G. Reid
June 13, 2016 16:01

This is a wonderful collection. I remember stories from my mother about the letters her father sent home during WW1 – none remain unfortunately – so this is a wonder way to see into his world at that time. Looking forward to reading it. He was from Sherbrook, N.S.

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