Documents found in my mother’s antique desk dating to just after the end of the First World War

My mother's desk. Above it there's a picture of my grandfather, Philip Micks, along with his medals from the Second World War.

My mother collects antiques, or at least she likes them enough to keep an eye out for them when she pursues one of her true passions in life, interior decorating. Some years ago she bought a writing desk of quarter cut oak, and within one of the drawers she was told were some documents from the desk’s original owner dating to just after the end of the Great War. I have a friend who is a government archivist –and to hear that woman speak in awe about the benefits of acid free paper is to be in the presence of true devotion– but I confess I have no idea how to go about preserving these pages beyond keeping them in their drawer. We do our best not to handle them or disturb them, but now that I have an outlet to share them with a wider audience through this blog, I’ve scanned them and written them out. Hopefully I haven’t done too much lasting damage to the originals in the process.

The first is a draft of a letter to a periodical (possibly the old Leamington Post and News) protesting that no true veteran of the trenches could possibly bemoan the free issue of rum and tobacco products given to soldiers on the Front. I’ve recently read Shock Troops by Tim Cook (I’ll do a book review soon), and he made several mentions of the British tradition of issuing rum and cigarettes to infantry. When those soldiers returned to civilian life, Canada was in the grips of Prohibition, and they flexed a lot of voting power to get those laws repealed, much to the consternation of the Temperance Movement. I would hazard a guess that I know which way the author of these documents voted on that matter.

Trench Rum and Tobacco

I have heard a great deal regarding the use of “rum” and tobacco in the trenches, so I wish to say a word about the same. I have been told that a returned soldier having(?) published that the rum nearly won the War for Germany. If so, it was for the lack of rum, and I must say that the returned soldier who made such a statement, never put in a winter in the trenches, or he must be working for a good easy church job.

I do not wish to say anything about the length of time I spent in France, but I wish you to know, I put in three full winters and more than that many summers, and I can truly(?) say that I never saw but four men refuse his rum ration out of the thousands I have seen. There is no use of me going into details regarding what good the rum done for the troops, for any man who was in the line knows without being told. And the tobacco and cigarette issue, those who do not know what pleasure it brought to the troops, should make themselves acquainted with one of the greatest pleasures that a man indulges in.

I am Sir

A Returned

Apparently the author of this letter felt very strongly about the matter, because the next page in the drawer was also bemoaning the lack of freedoms available to returning veterans. There may be a missing first page, or this might be an attempt at a very bad –and unpatriotic, if I may be forgiven for saying say so– poem.

(…?) When the war was in full swing.
And when our darkest days seemed to be,
The good old song wich (sic) seemed to rally,
One and all of us (sic) was:
“I love You Canada.”
The hand of Liberty and the (sic) Freedom.
Which we were fighting to maintain.
But now the war is over and the Boys
who stood the strain, have returned
to find themselves surrounded with
stern iron rules, which has rushed
the pleasures out of Liberty and
Freedom, turn the song into
I Hate You Canada more and
more as day by day passes bye

The third page, I feel, is just as important an historic document, even though it wasn’t a piece of personal correspondence. It’s a flyer for the Great War Veterans Association’s Leamington Ontario Branch –an early precursor to the Canadian Legion. On one side it’s an advertisement for a War Trophies display, and on the back it’s a list of the organization’s principles, including a promise to honour those men who are still overseas, implying demobilization is still going on (dating the document no later that 1920). Also, I love that the Women’s Auxilary President signs her name as Mrs. Miles Oper. What a very different time it was.

DON’T FAIL TO SEE
WAR TROPHIES
Exhibited by Great War Veterans
South of Merry-go-round
Admission, Adults 15c, Children 5c
See Other Side.

Aims and Objects
of
THE GREAT WAR VETERANS’ ASSOCIATION
OF CANADA, Incorporated

(a) To perpetuate the close and kindly ties of mutual service in the Great War, the recollections and associations of that experience, and to maintain proper standards of dignity and honor between all returned soldiers.

(b) To preserve the memory and records of those who suffered and died for their nation. To see to the erection of monuments to their valor; the preservation of suitable burial places; and the establishment of an annual memorial day.

(c) To ensure that proper provision is made for the due care of the sick, wounded and needy among those who have served; including reasonable pensions, employment for such as are capable, soldiers’ homes, medical care, and equitable provision for dependent families of enlisted men.

(d) To constantly inculcate loyalty to Canada and the Empire and unstinted service in their interests.

(e) To guard carefully the good name, interests and the standing of our comrades still overseas, and to which they should be entitled upon their return.

(f) To impress upon its members that they are to continue in their services to Canada as citizens the same spirit of sacrifice and loyalty which they have shown to Canada and the Empire as soldiers, and to remain as members of the Association, non-sectarian and non-partisan.

(g) To establish, maintain and operate clubs, club-rooms, hospitals, employment and information bureaus, industrial and other schools and institutions, libraries and establishments for the benefit, promotion and advancement generally of the interests of soldiers, and to furnish, stock and equip the same in such manner as the Association may determine.

C. H. LANE, Secretary Local Branch

LADIES’ AUXILIARY

The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the G. W. V. A. is a worthy organization of women who have dedicated their life interest to the welface of returned Veterans, in memory of the heroes who fell in France and Flanders;also to show the valiant survivors of the great war, their appreciation of the service they rendered Canada and Canadian homes, in winning the victorious battles for Righteousness, Liberty and Freedom.

Leamington Auxiliary meets the First Tuesday every month at 3 p.m. in the G. W. V. A. Club Room.

MRS MILES OPER, President.
MISS PATILLO, Secretary.

I’ve just contacted the Leamington Post to see if they want to do anything about these documents, and if they might have archives containing the article that got the desk’s original owner so riled up. I’ll post an update if anything comes of it.

3 Responses to Documents found in my mother’s antique desk dating to just after the end of the First World War

  1. Mini TV says:

    I find it amazing that you always find the time to write about things like this. I like your blog, so I hope that my post will inspire you to post some more good things!

    • Thank you! I’m actually working on a pretty big non-blog project at the moment, but I’ll do my best to make the time to post up here as often as I can. Glad you’re enjoying it. Cheers!

  2. laniwurm says:

    Nice find. About the poem, I think it’s less unpatriotic and more a reflection of the widespread feeling that returning soldiers should have had more to come back to than soaring inflation, low/stagnant wages, crappy working conditions (often for bosses suspected of war profiteering), and high rates of unemployment. This was probably the most volatile period in 20th century Canadian history, famously expressed in the west with the Winnipeg General Strike, but also in smaller strikes across the country. The economy didn’t really get going until the mid-20s.

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