Evelyn to Fred [Calgary]
May 23/17 

Dearest One:- ... 
The boiler burst yesterday; the janitor said it was choked up with mud - I'm thankful for the gas grate, but I don't like the fumes, and so I keep the window open. But then, I always think about you and what you're enduring, and things here seem paltry in comparison. 

This afternoon at the Court House, there was a dollar lying on the counter and I pretended to take it. Mr. Kelly said "You need it, don't you?" Then he went on to say, "I've just been picturing my wife doing what you are, living on an allowance, with the three children." I answered, "But I don't live on it; I couldn't." "No," he said, "You couldn't. And my wife isn't abusiness (mark you) woman like you; she wouldn't do what you are doing." "Well," I said, "You won't be going." He straightened up and said, "I'd volunteer before I'd go as a conscript." I said, "No, I used to think that too, but I've quite changed my mind, and think that the system, as it obtains in France or Germany is the fairest one, if there has to be war." ... 

If this were a truly democratic country, there would be a living separation allowance, and those who stayed at home would go without as many things as the dependants of those who went. When you see the new cars this spring, you have ample proof that that isn't the case, for you may very sure it isn't the soldiers' dependants who are buying cars. ... 

Last night about twenty to five I asked J.M. if I could speak to him a few minutes after five, and he said right away. So I broached the subject of holidays and he said he was glad I spoke, that he'd forgotten about them. ... Then he told about the old days, how long he went and how long you went without holidays; described the old offices to me; who came in and when; how you used to file your papers, ... At six he remembered he wanted to call up a woman and tried to but she'd gone. He finished by saying to go when I wanted, that they could arrange matters, ... I'm not counting on going east till near the end of June. Then Ora and I will be home most of the time together. ... 

I was making up a few of our accounts tonight, but it made me very, very homesick for my chum. Your handwriting, entries of "lunches" made me so homesick. Oh, how I long to put my arms around your neck and lay my head on your shoulder and know that you are safe and comfortable again. One does not get used to the loss of what one loves most, though I shouldn't say that, I should say physical absence. 

Sometimes, early in the morning, I wake up for no conceivable reason. I wonder if it is you calling me. This morning it was 5:30, and I awoke from a dream that we were sleeping in single beds, and that you were just stretching out [y]our arms for me, and we were just almost kissing each other. It seemed as if some strong force just made me wake up. 

Good night my darling.

Fred to Evelyn
Hertford, Herts.
22/5/17


My dear wife,

This has been another strenuous day - no less felt because the air was hot and sultry. I may not have told you before that we actually fall in 10 minutes before the hour named for parade and we are never dismissed before the hour - generally from 5 to 10 minutes after. In the course of a day this means in the aggregate about 1 hour more work than would appear from a reading of the syllabus. Today was particularly offensive in this regard and the space between periods was cut down to about 5 min. each time, which gave us very little opportunity for doing the cleaning that is expected of us.

To add to the already full day's work we had our tea time shortened by a 10 minute speech from a C of E. clergyman who gave a talk on the benefits of baptism & confirmation, and an invitation to have these rites performed if they have not already been done. However we all survived and immediately after the lecture tonight I made for the bath house, and soaked for about 15 min. in a hot tub bath. Now I feel reasonably free from perspiration and quite fresh again.

Last night I went to bed about 9 o'clock and fell asleep immediately. About 9.45 I was awakened by one of our boys asking if I'd like some Devonshire cream & cakes. In the army no word is so potent to waken a man as the name of any kind of food and I sat up immediately. Carman then produced a pint jar of real Devonshire cream, sent to him from Devonshire by his sister-in-law. He also had a couple biscuits for each of us. These with a generous thickness of the cream sandwiched between made a most palatable supper. I can't tell you what the cream tastes like, but it's a sort of combination of cream & cheese in flavor, very nice indeed. In a few seconds after I had despatched mine I fell asleep again & knew nothing more until reveille.

I do wish you could see this place now - and especially the field where we drill. It is encircled by magnificent trees and they are also scattered here & there all over the grounds - or park - whichever you wish to call it. This morning we came back to barracks by a new road - between green hedges and for the greater part under overarching branches. Fruit trees & flowering shrubs with horsechestnuts in bloom in the adjoining fields made the whole look like a beautiful garden spot. In fact I'm not sure but we came through a private estate. I'll find out later.

At one turn of the road there were 2 large lilac trees - one white the other blue - simply covered with flowers - and beside them was a larger tree smothered in flowers - I don't know what kind, though they look a good deal like japonicas. If you were only here you'd know all of their names. ... As soon as there's a bright evening I'm going to take a picture. For the past several days every evening has been cloudy. Now I'm going to copy out some notes. Goodnight my darling.

 

Wed. evening, 23rd May.

The same tale of the same driving speed, with no let up from our reveille to 6.30. - Today was slightly hotter than yesterday but one of the afternoon periods was devoted to a lecture instead of drill, hence was by that much the easier. Otherwise today was largely a repetition of yesterday and there is not much new to report. Tomorrow is the 24th but in Eng. it is not kept as a holiday - so we gain nothing by it other than the usual Thursday afternoon early quitting of work at 3 o'clock. We were also told today that next Monday - Whit Monday(6) - the afternoon will be devoted to sports and I suppose that for the majority of us that will mean nothing more strenuous than looking on.

Last evening we had a lecture on gas by a lieutenant locally called "wretched" - a cognomen that was given to him and has stuck ever since the first day when he said to us as we were fidgeting on parade - "Why don't you keep your wretched babies still?" He may be a good enough officer but the men do not take kindly to being bawled out for not looking smart by a specimen like him - vacant looking with protruding teeth & receding chin, and legs looking as if each hated the other and wanted to get away from it.

Our own platoon commander on the contrary is a man whom everyone likes. He is soldierly in appearance & a gentleman in his manner. A large crescent scar on the back of his neck bears silent witness to his service in France The school commandant has also seen service there and now goes about with an artificial leg and an artificial arm. Our company serjeant major is a fine man - well liked and efficient if ever there was one. The regimental serj. maj. is also a wonderfully good drill man - with a magnificent military figure and a voice like the bull of Bashau. You can hear his whisper across the parade ground.

In tonight's paper I see an item of Canadian news that there has been a rush to enlist since Sir Robt. Borden's announcement that a compulsory service bill will be introduced shortly into parl. I wonder if this is really true, and if so how many of your pet aversions have donned the khaki.

No Canadian mail yet. I wonder whether you get my letters or whether you too look in vain when the mail man calls. I hope not. I must copy some notes now so again goodnight - my own dear wife.

 

Thurs. evening 24/5/17

My first 24th May in England would have failed absolutely to give even the semblance of a holiday had it not been for the timely (?) appearance of a hostile Zep. It seems this vicinity is a favorite hunting ground of the Zeps, - and of course there are standing orders what to do in case a Zep. alarm is given.

Last night at 1.25 we were awakened by our platoon serjeant with, "Waken the men on each side of you. Dress and have rifles & bayonets handy, then lie down again until further orders. On no consideration strike any light." We rubbed our eyes and amid much grumbling at the disturbance of our rest groped in the dark for socks, boots, tunic etc, occasionally glancing out of the windows at the searchlights playing across the sky, which last night seemed more brilliant and numerous than usual.

Everyone was dead sleepy and in a few minutes we were again all asleep or dozing, but in about a quarter of an hour, the serjeant again appeared and ordered us to put on great coats belts & bayonets and then lie down again until further orders, but again we fell asleep ruefully thinking of the precious minutes taken from our rest.

... The next thing I knew was the announcement in the dim morning light that there would be no parade before breakfast. A great wave of relief swept over us and we all turned over again, happy in the thought of the extra hour's sleep this would give us. So you see the Zep was a blessing in disguise to us - for while it robbed us of possibly 15 min. sleep it gave us a whole hour additional and besides saved us the trouble of dressing this morning.

We learned this morning that it was some distance away and so far as we know it did no damage. However some of the staff here were up nearly all night. One of the cook house orderlies said to me this morning "Hi wouldn't mind so much hif they'd Honly coom. Hit's 'aving Hall the trooble fer nothinck what Hi 'ates. 'Ere Hi am Hup from 'arf pawst twelve to 'arf pawst foh - and then the bloomin' thing never turns hup."

Of course this being Thursday we knocked off work at 3.30. Some of the men had to practise for the sports next Monday, but I took a couple pictures - went down town for some stamps & have done a little studying. Tomorrow will be a big day again but Saturday will be short. We expect an exam. next Monday. I have now caught up some of my lost sleep - though I don't know when, for I haven't had more than 7 1/2 hours any night this week - At any rate I feel all right again, - and on Sat. afternoon if it's nice Nease & I are going to the park where we drill and are going to do some studying under the trees. I'm also going to try to get some more pictures on Sat. & Sunday.

There are a lot of things here that at first glance strike one as a waste of time in the midst of war, but after all they are all good for discipline and physical training . I find my muscles are losing their stiffness, and respond more readily to the nerves than they have for years. I have an appetite like a horse and the grub continues good and nourishing. In this regard we are much better off than at Bramshott.

One of the things we at first thought silly is stick drill - ie - drill in the proper carrying of a stick when walking, saluting, etc. It's astonishing how awkward we are in the simple motions of changing a stick from one side to another etc. We had one hour's drill at it last week & one again today. I don't know how much more there will be, but if when we leave this school we don't "swank" it will not be the fault of our instructors.

... I wonder how you have been spending the day. Happily, and out of doors, I hope. Perhaps next year we can spend it together again. Then we'll not work but keep a real holiday, n'est-ce-pas? I'm sure that we'll know better how to enjoy life after the war and that we'll take and make more opportunities for being out of doors than we have in the past.

Today the commandant & the adjutant rode into the barrack square on their horses beautiful high spirited well bred animals and I thought - some day we'll have horses like those. Won't it be glorious to ride over the prairie in the early morning or in the long summer evenings? So many of my dreams have come true more gloriously true than I had dared to expect. Surely this one will.

I find I forgot to enclose those flowers in my last letter. I'm putting them in this. I don't know flower language, but they are meant to remind you that I am always thinking of you as the beauty and brightness of my life - in very truth its flower.

Fred.
 


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    A box of old letters, discovered in a basement, turned out to contain an absorbing, first hand account of life in Canada, England and on the battlefields of France during the early part of the 20th century. The correspondence between an exceptional couple spans the time of their early courtship, engagement and marriage and their separation when Fred Albright went overseas in World War 1.

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