Note: Posted corrected to state true author of letter and to add text from second JPEG.
On May 2, 1916 Major George Whitford Nelson’s wife Edna wrote a letter to her family in Canada. The 18th Battalion had been in overseas action since September 1915 and had seen fighting in Flanders. It has been blooded in action and had sustained 84 dead and untold wounded of a total of 3,055 Canadian soldiers that died from September 1, 1915 to May 2, 1916.
Major Nelson was an originating officer of the 18th Battalion and was Taken on Strength November 4, 1914 in Strathroy, Ontario. There is on record numerous letters from himself to his wife Edna at the Bruce County Military History site and some of them have been transcribed and saved as JPEGs. I offer the actual file and have transcribed it as accurately as possible so that it can be viewed and searched.
It is a fascinating letter that indicates many aspects of service in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces and the 18th Battalion specifically.
The first example is the reference to Major George Emmerton. Numerous War Diary entries refer to Major Emmerton leaving the Battalion for hospital and returning. He was suffering from rheumatism and cold, wet environment of the trenches and the weather, coupled with poor diet and exercise would have affected Major Emmerton who was 37 when he joined the Battalion.
Major Nelson offers another example indicating “the ’18th’ suffered terribly,” paraphrasing a letter from the battalion commander, Colonel Wigle. The suffering had only begun and casualties would mount as the battalion cycled in and out of the trenches in Belgium and then was transferred to the Somme Front from one type of hell to another.
Last, the closeness and familiarity of the soldiers. Not only did they serve together and create a bond but the areas they were from had small, cohesive populations with similar roots and many soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Contingents had prior military service, often serving with many of the same soldiers from their home militia units. Note the Major Emmerton had a brother serving in the 18th Battalion, Lance Corporal Ernest Emmerton (53906),
Note that the letter is written in Surrey, England most probably when the Major was on leave.
Eversfield, Emberlane Esher, Surrey,
May 2. 1916
No doubt you will have lost patience with me by now for being so
negligent but really the time has flown. It seems just like yesterday we
landed here it is nigh on two months.
George [and] Major Emmerton are away to attend “Medical Board” this and I feel so I had do so at last settled down to write. They receive their ‘sentence’ either a further leave of absence or to report at Folskline [Folkestone] tomorrow prior to sailing direct for France. I fear George will leave at once. In fact I know he will, as he is determined to turn every stone to get there. He is getting special mention as to his service Pte Doctors [?] at Hospital and Col. Wigle is here in city to help him strengt [SIC]as he is determined to get him back, he misses him so much otherwise he would have got a leave of six weeks.
He has had so little time with us he attended hospital quite regularly until last week. His hand has healed over nicely but of course will quite a scar. The wrist however is very weak and I fear he will often find trouble with it. He cannot raise himself with it nor rest much on it and cannot even close his fingers in a grip yet. For example yesterday he tried to sharpen his pencil and could not hold the knife, so you see if he were like men trying to “slide out of things” as so many Military officers doing too he could easily get three months’ leave if he wished. That is not, however George’ style. He knows he is needed and he is only to anxious to go.
Major Emmerton may not pass as fit as he is still far from well with Rheumatism. A change of weather crippled him right up. He expects something either here in England or in Canada.
Col. Wigle is expecting to get command of a Brigade soon and if so is giving George a Staff appointment on it. It will not be a promotion in rank, not for a while at least, but may lead to something later, and as I figure it, much more safe. He will get a substantial increase in pay too. He might be rather undecided about taking is [it] as if Col. Wigle leaves ’18th’ it will mean George will be second in command and then, anything happening [to] Major Mulligan [Milligan] would mean Georg [George] being Lt. Col. in command of his dear old ‘18th’. That rather appeals to him as he loves the old Battalion.
The ’18th’ suffered terribly lately. Col. Wigle wrote that it was ‘Hell’. Major Emmerton’s brother Sergt. Emmerton was shot in the face and the piece of shrapnel had to be cut out of mucles [muscles] of his neck, He is in England now and lost sense of taste and smell completely. Lance Corporal Fleming of Owen Sound a fine big six-footer and really good looking chap had lost one leg. The shell that hit him killed the two men with him in Transport service.
Took a few snaps yesterday had to a camera as George’s is still in France with Sid. Will send you some as soon as finished. Have one if it turned out all right, of the two Majors in gas-masks.
We have two months yet in our house here which now begins to feel like to us. June 22, we leave here and expect to get something somewhere on the east or west coast for [the] summer months. If there is still no hope by Fall of George going home with us going with us we will sail home about Sept. or October. George will have leave June or July and we will spend it in Scotland. We may wait his next leave for sailing. It should come in Sept. or October.
The [children] are doing so well are as happy with daddy. Babe seemed to know him right from the first sight of him. She rubs his face and Says “my daddy”. Geraldine will allow no one to do for her but daddy and do you know poor dad has been compelled to sleep four to a bed for we all wanted him and he tried to suit all.
We have now with us a Scotch girl about my own age or older as companion help. She is educated and refined and is very nice indeed [a] Miss Jessie McIntosh. She takes full control of the house and I go out any time leaving her with the children and know that all is right. She is just right sort of cheery companion one needs when alone and the children like her well. She is an excellent cook and we have enjoyed many good dishes since she came. And now for the surprise – we pay her $7.68 a month. Do you not wish you could strike a snap like that over there —- 8 shillings a week. To-night she is planning a big farewell dinner for the ‘Majors’ and leave me perfectly free to spend all my time now with George.
Well must close for now. Do write me as soon as I long to hear from Canada and will so much more after George goes. Much love from all to all.
The Butchers Bill from September 1915 to May 1916
|Last Name||First Name||Age||KIA||Rank||Service No.|
|CLARKE||FRANK L. H.||29||05/11/1915||Private||53092|
|FLEMING||E G||19/04/1916||Lance Corporal||53240|
|FREW||W W||30/09/1915||Lance Corporal||53227|
|LOWES||WILLIAM ERNEST||30||27/03/1916||Lance Corporal||53420|
|PIPER||T J||40||04/11/1915||Lance Corporal||54167|
|RUNCIMAN||G T||25||29/03/1916||Lance Corporal||53281|
|WILSON||C J W||02/04/1916||Private||406642|