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Special Items

This contains collections of an unique nature, such as newspaper letter collections, interviews, and out of print publications.

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This collection contains over 250 letters from World War One published in The Cobourg World, a local newspaper published in Cobourg, Ontario. Newspapers across Canada regularly printed letters home from overseas, either letters written directly to the newspaper by the soldiers, or first written to the family and then contributed to the paper by the family. Collections such as those from The Cobourg World provide a fascinating look at the relationship of community and war as played out in the pages of the local newspaper. All letters in the collection have been previously published in the newspaper and were also later collected by local historian Percy Climo in a work entitled "Let Us Remember". The dates for which the letters are listed represent the dates on which they were published, as the original dates of the letters are not always indicated. Where the original date of writing is known it will be part of the letter text. Introductions to the letters and editorial comments as they appeared in the newspaper have been left as published. All transcriptions have been taken from copies on microfilm and as such there are no scans for this collection.

This collection consists of more than 30 letters, as well as news items and editorials, originally published in the Dutton Advance newspaper in Ontario. These are letters home from soldiers overseas to family and community, spanning the years 1900 to 1944, which offer a unique glimpse of the ties between the soldiers and their homes. The dates indicated for the letters are those on which the letters were published in the newspaper, not the date of writing. Original headings and commnents at the time of publication have been retained.

Private Richard William Mercer was born in Bolton, England, on July 27th, 1897, to parents William and Georgina Mercer. On April 20th, 1916, he enlisted at Wawota, Saskatchewan, with the 196th Western Universities Overseas Battalion, “B” Company (University of Saskatchewan), Canadian Expeditionary Force.

He completed his basic training at Camp Hughes, Manitoba, before shipping to England on the S.S. Southland in November of 1916. He served both there and in France with a number of different units including Bordon’s Motor Machine Gun Battery and the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. He was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade in December of 1918 and served with them as part of the Allied Occupation Force in Germany, until finally returning to Canada for demobilization on May 18th, 1919.

External links:
Pte. Mercer’s Service Record (Serv/Reg# 911016) can be viewed/downloaded in pdf format through Library and Archives Canada.

The Mercer collection was provided through the work of Dwight G. Mercer who has documented Pte. Richard Mercer’s Letters from the Great War history online, where more information can be found about the Mercer story and of the history of the 6th Brigade & 2nd Battalion Canadian Machine Gun Corps. Dwight Mercer’s footnotes have been included with both the letters and the memoir, and provide extensive background information on both content and context.

Sergeant Ralph Beverly Watson (a.k.a. Joseph Ralph Watson) was born in Hull, England on October 23, 1883, to parents Joseph Watson and Lavinia Sanderson. Moving to Canada sometime prior to the war, he settled in Ottawa where he married Beulah Bahnsen in January of 1915. On May 25 that same year he enlisted from there as a Private in the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

He embarked for England on the troop ship S.S. Missanabie in July of 1915 and was sent into action in France in February of 1916. While hospitalized on several occasions, most seriously for gas poisoning, Watson survived through to the end of the war and was demobilized on February 3, 1919.

The Watson letters are not a typical collection for the Canadian Letters & Images Project in that most collections are of letters and other items that have been donated to us by individuals or families who have had them passed down directly from the original writer. But in this case, the letters collected here were published together as the book Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer in 1918. Published while the war was still ongoing, the author was identified only as “R.A.L.”; other identifying details such as dates were also changed in order to preserve anonymity (e.g. the book gives the date of enlistment as May 31 instead of Watson’s real enlistment date of May 25). The real identity of the author appears to have remained unknown for many decades, but has since been identified as Ralph Beverly Watson (born Joseph Ralph Watson, he was going by “Ralph Beverly” at the time of his marriage and enlistment).

Now in the public domain, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer was digitized by the Internet Archive Digital Library in 2008 from the collection of the University of California Libraries, and is available online through the archive.org website (see External links below). The individual letter files in this collection were created from the archive.org digitized copy as part of a data-analysis research project at Vancouver Island University.

External links:
Sgt. Watson's Service Record (Reg/Ser# 63) is available through Library and Archives Canada.
Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer, by Coningsby William Dawson, 1918, provided online by the Internet Foundation at archive.org.

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