Poignant First World War letter

June 5, 2012 by Sharon Adams

If it weren’t for Memorial Day across the border, I doubt any Canadian would ever have come across a touching letter written by a Canadian soldier that paints a picture of daily life experience for an engineer in trench warfare.

The letter was written by Capt. N.R. Roy Robertson to his cousin Lizzie Penniman in California in May, 1915.  He describes  a party of Canadians short of ammunition during the Battle of Ypres who “just lay there and got up and charge whenever the Huns got too close.”

He describes the sound of shells coming in, each with its own peculiar noise “from a railway train rushing overhead to the whistling shriek of a bag of the shrapnel.”  How the Germans set buildings on fire every night just to provide light, shelled ambulances, picked off rescue parties.

“I am not trying to make this letter a beastly morbid one, but just to give you a description of what an attack is like.”  Interestingly, it is the fate of the civilians that “certainly riles you,” he writes.

The Walnut Creek Historical Society, which has the letter, cannot say whether its author survived the war.  However,  a search of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website turned up no listing for Capt. N.R. or Roy Robertson.




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