Alvin Andrew was a farm boy. He turned 18 in the spring of 1916, but he waited until after harvest was done to enlist in the army. Farm workers were hard to come by with so many men at war and Alvin didn’t want to leave his father to do all the work alone; his little brothers weren’t even teenagers yet. His youngest brother, Georgie, was only 2.
Alvin knew that people with extra skills often got specialist roles in the army. So when he signed up, instead of writing down that he was a farmer, he listed his trade as a motor driver. After all, he and his big sister Nelda had convinced their father to buy them a car. Alvin ended up with the Canadian Engineering Corps.
A month after he filled in the paperwork, Alvin was in Quebec, training.
St Johns, Quebec | December 21, 1916
Hello Nelda. I am glad you people remember to write occasionally.
Mark is out of the hospital again. He was on sick leave in Montreal. He will be way behind in his drill. We have taken up a few lessons on tying knots and lashing and also a few rough lessons on building platoon bridges. It’s quite interesting.
There are a lot of new fellows coming in every day. Last Sunday and Monday there was about 60 arrived.
I suppose you people will have a glorious time Xmas and New Years.
Love to all. Best wishes for a merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.
XXXXX for Georgie
Quebec| January 21, 1917
Hellow Nelda, how’s Manitoba this morning? I guess when you receive this I’ll be far away from here. We’re heading to England.
Say Nelda I’ve weighed myself and I weigh 136 pounds now. That’s ten more than when I left home so you see I have done fairly well.
We were out on a toboggan slide yesterday afternoon and I am so sore now I can hardly move. I guess I had better close now, hoping to hear from you soon.
Your loving brother,
XXX for Georgie
England | March 11, 1917
Well Shanks, I got your letters on Friday.
It gets kind of monotonous hanging around here. However time seems to pass quickly. Last week went in a flash. We were the duty section and, of course, were doing some trucking around. I delivered rations four days and gathered wood one day.
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our hut would be quarantined for measles. One of the fellows has a rash all over his body, face and limbs today and is feeling generally dopey. By jingo, it will be a ring snorter if we are quarantined for a couple of months. When we are in quarantine there isn’t any pay parades and Thursday is pay day.
It’s started raining again and I’m on picket duty tonight watching for the enemy. hope it don’t rain long.
Well Nelda I suppose you will be twenty one before you receive this, I wish you many happy returns of the day. I will have to go and get my supper now so Bye Bye.
Love to all,
England | May 6, 1917
Well Nelda how’s things going around home today. I hope every person is well.
I was working all morning. Drawing furniture to some huts. They are expecting a Draft of 325 from Canada tonight and of course had to get ready for them
There’s another Draft to leave camp tomorrow morning. There seems to be quite a demand for drivers since the advance has begun.
Say that cake was OK and the sox just right. My khaki sox are beginning to wear a little in the toes but I can’t expect much else as I wear them steadily.
Well Nelda I think I’d better ring off as I’ve nearly run out of news so I’ll say bye bye and best love to all.
XXXX for Georgie
England | May 28, 1917
Dear Aunt Mary,
Received your letter & parcel. They were greatly appreciated; thanks ever so much.
We were away on pass last week and went up to London. I saw Ted there. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge, a bullet wound in his arm. He is in England recovering. He doesn’t want to go back to the fighting in France. I hope I can go soon. I’m getting fed up with camp.
I haven’t had any Canadian mail for a long time. I hope it soon comes through again for I’d like to know how things are going over home. The last letter I had was six weeks ago.
We had a half holiday today. There was three games of baseball and a game of football. Seemed kind of like old times to see a game of ball again.
We’ve had several air raides again this last week. The nearest they came was about twelve or thirteen miles away.
Well I guess I’ll close and I wish you the very best of luck. Thanks again.
I am your loving
France | June 10, 1917
Here we are at last in France. We’re at a rest camp at present. I have been here for a couple of days now. I’m feeling pretty good, but oh: say when I landed in here I was tired, foot sore, hungry and weary. The night we disembarked we stayed at a rest camp and the next morning we hit the hike. We tramped twenty miles. It was a scorcher of a day. Left about 9:30 and marched until about a quarter to six. Say but that was a mighty lengthy walk for me. You know we had our great-coats, blankets & kit bags as well as the rest of our equipment. We certainly slept soundly that night.
Well, I think I’ll close and have some supper.
Bye bye for this time and best love.
I am as ever
Your loving son, Alvin
Write as often as possible. Just address them France.
Alvin was named a platoon runner, delivering messages between the front lines and headquarters.
France | October 13, 1917
Received your parcel and of course many thanks. The cranberries are delicious. It was just after breakfast when I got the parcel. Of course I ripped it open and when I saw the fruit I had another breakfast which consisted largely of cranberries. I got the parcel over where the rest of the platoon were and had to share. The gum all went and most of the handkerchiefs. I also gave the towel away as I got one from Aunt Bea about a week ago and didn’t have room to carry two.
Say please mix up some more maple cream and send it next time.
Judging from your letter poor old Dooley must of got it pretty badly. I hope he manages to pull through alright. Our boys are surely getting it pretty badly this summer aren’t they.
Wee Georgie’s birthday yesterday, wasn’t it?
Well I’d better quit this nonsense so bye bye and write again.
Your loving bro
France | December 9, 1917
Mother asked in her letter what kind of parcels I would like now. Well plenty of fruit cake and home made candy is about all a fellow requires besides some reading material. A small magazine is good as one can pack them easily.
I wish you could of seen me when I got back tonight. I was one of the muddiest creatures ever. I believe tonight is the worst for darkness I ever was out. It has been raining the last couple of days so you can easily guess what traveling is like. Where I had to deliver my dispatches there was a very steep bank. Probably ten feet of a drop. Had to climb this to get to H.Q. Well I managed to make it okay going up but I was rather blinded by the light when I stepped inside and instead of waiting a few minutes until my eyesight got accustomed to the darkness I plunged right out. Well I made it all right until I started down the bank and I turned off too soon. Instead of hitting the steps and walking down I stepped over the bank and ended up sliding down on my hands and knees. When I struck the bottom I landed in slime. Chalk & water & if you can tell me anything dirtier than that to tumble into you are going some. I wasn’t hurt only oh you mud. I managed to get back and now I am enjoying myself in front of the fireplace drying out. I was certainly a queer looking figure. I’m sure you would have laughed had you seen me.
Well I think I’ve about exhausted my news supply again so will have to close. Wishing you a pleasant good night. Love to all.
Your loving bro,
The present is for Georgie.
This letter is all chewed up like a dog’s breakfast.
France | March 30, 1918
How’s all the people today. We are still enjoying ourselves as per usual. The last few days we’ve been cruising around on foot. It’s all kinds of fun this sight-seeing on foot. Two nights ago we made about 32 kilometres with our houses on our backs. Great sport.
At present we are with the Guards Divisions, you’ve undoubtedly of them. Well we are working in conjunction with them. Pretty good compliment to our boys to be placed with them, what you think. We expect big doings shortly.
The Germans are shooting like mad now. They’re making advances but not without heavy losses on their side. They made 19 different attacks against the Guards Divisions in one day.
I certainly think we’ll have them by the end of this summer.
Say, Monday is your birthday is it not. Many happy returns, etc, etc. I hope I’ll be able to wish you those compliments in person next year.
Well, I think I’ll say “Au Revoir” again and best love to all. Write whenever you can. I know you write, but I hardly ever get them.
Good bye again.
Your loving bro.
XXXX for Geo
Preserving our Family and National History
These are Alvin’s actual letters. His family saved them, treasured them. Why were those letters to so important to them? Well, the letters were all they got back. Alvin didn’t make it home from the war. On April, 7, 1918, just one week after the last letter I read you, Private Alvin Wesley Andrew of the 27th Battalion was killed in action in France.
For 100 years Alvin’s family has cherished a box of full of his letters. How do I know? You see my grandfather was the wee Georgie Alvin mentioned in his letters. My grandfather, George, was just a toddler when his big brother Alvin went off to war. He didn’t have any memories of his older brother, but as he grew, he came to treasure his brother’s letters. Now I am the keeper of Alvin’s letters. I’m trying to make sure he is not forgotten, that the men he served with are not forgotten.
We will remember them.
*Letters transcribed and thoughts written by my cousin, Renee Englot.