by the Trail Museum and Archives
In recognition of Remembrance Day, the Trail Museum and Archives is sharing recently donated letters written by Trail soldiers during the First World War.
Today, we feature a letter from Jimmy Schofield, son of MLA and insurance agent J.H. Schofield. Jimmy enlisted in November 1916 at the age of 23 while in school at Victoria.
His collection of letters, all 225 of them, are now housed in the archival collection and digitized.
This collection was the subject of the Trail museum’s 2018 exhibit, The Affectionate Son, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War.
Jimmy was wounded several times during the war and his letters recount his injuries, his battles, his excitements, and his frustrations.
Collected by Jimmy’s great-niece, Jill Wall, and donated by her husband Robert after her passing, these letters share unique insight into the life of a small-town soldier engaged in one of the most devastating conflicts the world has seen.
Soldiers were given strict instructions around letter writing.
They were not permitted to disclose their locations or elaborate much on their movements. Also important, they were not to share too much of their despair, as the army worked hard to ensure morale on the home front remained high.
Some of Jimmy’s letters, like those written to his mother, were extremely tempered given the subject matter, only offering vague glimpses at life in the trenches, in battle, and when wounded.
The collection shows a progressive change in outlook and attitude towards the war, especially given his father’s conservative stance on conscription and duty.
Jimmy returned home safely from the war on Jan. 6, 1919 and continued on in his father’s insurance business. He died at the age of 55 in August 1950.
Here is a letter selected from November 1917, recounting a battle and the second of three injuries he sustained while overseas.
Note: This transcription contains derogatory slang referring to German soldiers.
November 6, 1917
Many thanks for your long letter of Sept. 25th which just arrived today. I also received one from Aunt Nellie. You mention receiving one from me dated Sept. 2nd, the first after I was wounded. I certainly wrote one if not two letters before that time and can’t think what happened to them.
Well I was wounded on the evening of the 24th of August while on an outpost. Our company had been held in support while the others went over the top early one morning and were hidden in the old cellars underneath piles of bricks and broken down houses. Some sensation to hear the bricks falling on top of a cellar, believe me. A chum of mine had to go out with a message and took the roof as a landmark so he could get back quickly and when he got back there was no roof left. My platoon was called up to do a bit of work which the others had failed to do. About ten o’clock that morning we came out of the cellars, crawled up through the battered down trenches and came across the adjutant who had been out looking over things. We stopped in a big crater and received instructions from him, and a party were just starting over when we spied a bunch of Heinies about a hundred yards away. Some of us got up and started sniping and shooting grenades at them and made it so hot that two of them, just kids practically, climbed out and came over to us and the rest beat it through a cut which I was covering. A party was sent over after them and we put up a little barrage of our own to cover them. Inside of half an hour they came back with fifteen prisoners, a lot of them with wounds. We then went over and occupied the trench. I was on an outpost made by putting a block in the trench and although it was the farthest position out we were or thought we were quite safe. I was there for three or four days and nights and had quite a time. We were sent out to bomb a big house one morning but that’s all it amounted to as there was no one in it at the time and coming back we came across a machine-gun just outside a cement-gun-emplacement. We picked it up (my mate at that time) and brought it in. The O.C. was tickled to death! Then the two of us went back and souvenired the emplacements. I had a big china pipe, and several other little things that I was going to bring out but as circumstances were I couldn’t. I also had a ring with the iron cross on it that I was intending to send home also but lost it at the base. We found all kinds of cigarettes, tobbaco [sic], 3 revolvers, a dagger, a bottle of wine, three or four thousand rounds of machine gun ammunition all done up in belts and the next night another gun. Well about 7 o’clock, on the 24th I was sitting down on the firing step eating my supper when Fritz opened up his evening state as we call it and things began to get hot for us. They were going all around us and then all of a sudden one lights on the parades and supper and all goes up in the air with me. Believe me we weren’t slow in getting away from there to a safer place and then on out of the line. We were brought to the hospital train from the Casualty Clearing Station which was the first place we stopped for any length of time. I must have been a sorry looking mess because I hadn’t had a wash or shave for over a week. My face was all smattered up and bleeding, pants torn and was pretty tired. When I hit the hospital I sure had a good sleep after getting a bath and change into clean clothes.
Have just got orders to report back to my unit so I guess it means up the line with the best of luck in the near future. Will write more later.
With love to all. Ever your affectionate son,