Although we are now heading into the Christmas season, I want to share a resource I came across as part of our Remembrance Day activities.
Our local newspaper does an excellent job of connecting readers with the actual people who went to war. For one thing they run a “remembrance” page where families can commemorate their loved ones. One item clutches at my heart strings–a family of seven, four brothers to WWI and three more to WWII. On first glance I thought the family was lucky since only one brother was killed in action. On a closer reading I found that the surviving brothers of WWI were all invalided out. One suffered shell-shock (we call that PTSD now) for the rest of his life.
However, the newspaper cannot tell all the stories, there are too many. Into the breech has come Vancouver Island University with its “Letters Home” project. The university has collected letters written by soldiers away from home and sent to their families. In November, copies of those letters are delivered to the current occupant of the house at that address.
The recipients are surprized to to receive a letter written from the trenches a hundred or more years ago, but most are touched by the message, and reflect on the young man (only men were in combat at that time) who left home and family in the cause of justice and freedom.
What makes this project unique and wonderful is the fact the letters are not held in a museum. Rather they are digitized and then returned to the family that owns them. Thus Canadians can read the real life experiences of our soldiers without depriving the families of a precious artifact.
So far the university has digitized 30000 letters and thousands of photographs. The database is searchable and available to the public for free. It can be found at canadianletters.ca.
I took a quick look and was immediately drawn into a story. The first letter on the landing page was from a young man wondering why Marjorie hadn’t written. I wanted to jump back in time and give Marjorie a stern lecture. Then I wondered if Marjorie had become ill or maybe died herself and no one had the heart to tell her soldier-beau. Or maybe Marjorie had written but the letters were intercepted. Of perhaps . . .
Look at the story possibilities that jumped to mind after reading only a few paragraphs. For writers of fiction, this database is a treasury of ideas. For people living in a former soldier’s home, they are a window to the history of the house. For citizens who weep for the lives lost, the dreams unfulfilled, and the heartbreak of millions, the letters are a way to honour our brave men and women who sacrificed so much that we might live in peace.
On this day of American Thanksgiving celebrations let us give thanks to our veterans for their service.