Private Barrett was a mystery soldier since January 2016. He was found quite by accident when a letter he wrote was found in The Grand River Sanchem[i] under the name of Harry Barrett. After searching vainly for this soldier using a manual search at the Library and Archives Canada the search was abandoned to focus on other soldiers. But persistence pays off and by cross-referencing the article with other search terms at the Haldimand County Museum site other articles were found.
The letters of Private Barrett give an insight into the close relationship of the men of the 114th Battalion (Brock’s Rangers) and it must have been a grave disappointment to the men of the Battalion to end up being broken up into reinforcing drafts for the battalions of the Canadian Corp. A brief history of the Battalion related bitterly: “Upon its arrival in England, the Battalion was broken up. Practically at the Railway Station, as they came in.”[ii] Almost half of the draft of this battalion was made of indigenous volunteers.
What is evident from Private Barrett’s letters is that after the disbandment of the Battalion the strong regional bonds of the men from Cayuga, Dunnville, Caledonia, and other parts of Haldimand County. That bond existed past the break up of the Battalion and Barrett’s and other 114th Battalion members’ letters published in The Grand River Sanchem attest to this bond and the maintenance of this bond through letter writing.
The letters are transcribed in order, by date. The original letter images will be at the end of the post.
First Letter Summary: Private Barrett writes his Grand Mother relating the recent news of the death of his mother and younger brother. It appears that his brother came to an accident, possibly a drowning.
September 2, 1917: Somewhere in France
Letter from Pte. Barrett[iii]
Somewhere in France, Sept. 2, 1917[iv]
Mrs. P. Young, Caledonia, Ont.:
Dear Grandma – Your letter and paper at hand, containing Lafayette’s death[v], which certainly made me feel blue when I first received word. It seems queer that mother[vi] and he should die in the same month. My birthday is on July 24. Mother died on the 10th and Lafe on the 27th. I am pleased to hear that everyone gave a hand to get him. You can give my sincere thanks to everyone in return for their willing hand upon recovering his body.[vii] If any of you see Jim Stevens give him my best regards as an old friend.
I hope Lafe’s cigarettes arrived all right; also the other parcels, as they are appreciated now.
My address is B Co., 18th Battalion, Canadians, B.E.F., France. I am not in touch with the other boys, so cannot give them the paper. Of course you are aware that lice is no object here; also peaches and cream are scarce, but we live good. Well I guess I will close for this time, hoping all is well. Best regards to all.
I remain your loving grandson,
Second Letter Summary: A letter to Captain William Percy Lyon, Chaplain to the 114th Battalion. He served with the 3rd Overseas Reserve Battalion in England and the at the Canadian Base Depot in Boulogne, France. Barrett writes a brief letter at some risk of punishment as it is past lights out and eludes to some event that occurred that is not fit for the “press”.
June 30, 1918: To Captain Lyon[viii], Chaplain of the 114th Battalion, Brock’s Rangers
Letters from Overseas
To Capt. Lyon.
France, June 30, 1918
Dear Sir – I was the recipient of your most welcome letter, and need not say was pleased to hear you are making good your trying experiences. Captain, you shall have to excuse this scribble, as I am taking advantage of army laws by doing this after the lights are out, and as I have just concluded a six-page letters, “otherwise a continued story” on paper like this you shall not be disappointed if I cut this rather short. No doubt you surmise where this mentioned letter went to, “not to press anyway.” I gave your compliment to the boys, also Jim Johnson[ix] your address so you shall no doubt hear from him shortly. Everything is the same as usual here and just as quiet again; therefore, we can rest peacefully again. I imagine everything is getting unpleasant up there again on account of the rain.
I just received news yesterday that my father is better again, but unfortunately my youngest sister[x] has been very ill.
Well, captain, some one says lights out, so I guess I shall be forced to close for this time, wishing the best of luck and Godspeed home.
PTE. H.R. BARRETT
Third Letter Summary: A letter to Captain Lyon relating Private Barrett’s interactions with other soldiers of the 114th Battalion and the illness of his father and sister.
August 11, 1918: To Captain Lyon[xi], Chaplain of the 114th Battalion, Brock’s Rangers
Letters from Overseas
To Capt. Lyon.
France, August 11, 1918[xii]
Dear Sir – Just a line in answer to your most welcome letter of July 17, which has been mislayed, and I humbly apologize for my carelessness in causing such a delay.
I am now of age, as you know, but shall not return to my unit on account of being classed B 2[xiii] on a recent medical board, and am now employed in an orderly room in this depot.
I received a letter from home the other day, and find my young sister has been move from the hospital, but will not be able to do anything for quite a long time.
I saw Jack Renwick; he just left here this morning for the unit; he is with the 58th. I haven’t seen any of the Brock’s lately, on George Brittingham[xiv] [Brettingham], who was here some time ago, but do now know where he went to.
We have had our visitor[xv] here quite frequently trying to get the troops wind up.
Perhaps I shall be making my tracks to England on leave the end of the month or the first of the next, where I can see life again.
When I said I’d not seen any of the boys, I had forgotten that Fred Harrison[xvi] passed through the A.S.C. [Canadian Army Service Corp] Bakery, and I told him where you were, so, perhaps, you will be hearing from him.
Well captain, I guess this is all the news for this time. Hoping to hear from you again,
I remain, yours sincerely,
PTE. H.R. BARRETT
The letters give a glimpse of the relations between the men of the 114th Battalion and illustrates the strength of the bonds of these men after their unit has been broken up. They write to each other and related news from their military experience and try their best to keep each outer abreast of all the news. Captain Lyon must have been a strong personality. Even as one of the two Battalion Chaplains, his influence and emotional connection with the private soldiers of the Battalion bears witness to, even when dispersed, the men needed a focal and familiar point of reference to relate to. Captain Lyon was probably that man. One can imagine the volume of correspondence he received during the war and the effort he may have taken to maintain correspondence with the men of this former Battalion, on top of his duties as a Chaplain in the unit to which he was assigned.
Private Barrett’s personal life was tragic. His mother and brother die within days of each other and his father and youngest sister are ill at the same time. Yet, his letter maintains a newsy quality and are not maudlin or morbid in tone. Perhaps the bonds of the soldiers of the 114th Battalion and the support of same helped him sustain his efforts to serve in the Canadian Army. The letters are glimpse at this man and his time.
[i] Founded in 1856 in Cayuga, Ontario and still being published today as The Sanchem.
[ii] A Short History of the 37th Battalion, Haldimand Rifles, and the 114th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, For Overseas Service, in the First Great War. R.F. Miller. May 30, 1944.
[iii] Source: The Grand River Sachem. September 26, 1917. Page unknown.
[iv] At the date of the composition of the letter the 18th Battalion was at Villers Camp near the commune of Villers-au-Bois in France. The letter was written on a Sunday and the Battalion had a Communion Service at 7:45 a.m. and Divine Service at 10:00 a.m.
[v] Lafayette Barrett was born March 1906. Private Barrett also had 2 sisters. The census tables do not record his mother. 1911 Census. Ontario, Haldimand, Caledonia. District 41. Page 3.
[vi] Private Barrett listed his next-of-kin on his Attestation Papers as his sister: Velma McCann residing at 106 Murray Street, Hamilton, Ontario. The 1911 Census does not list his mother.
[vii] From these two sentences, it is likely that Lafayette Barrett drowned or met some other misfortune.
[viii] Captain William Percy Lyon was the Chaplain for the 114th Battalion and The Grand River Sachem has numerous letters from former soldiers of the 114th Battalion to Captain Lyon relating their experiences and feelings. It appears he kept a very robust correspondence with the members of the 114th and was highly regarded by the men of the Battalion.
[ix] Likely Pte. James Wellington Johnson (739556) killed in action with the 1st Battalion August 30, 1918.
[x] Helen Barrett born 1902.
[xi] Captain William Percy Lyon was the Chaplain for the 114th Battalion and The Grand River Sachem has numerous letters from former soldiers of the 114th Battalion to Captain Lyon relating their experiences and feelings. It appears he kept a very robust correspondence with the members of the 114th and was highly regarded by the men of the Battalion.
[xii] On June 31, 1918 Pte. Barrett was taken on strength with the Canadian Labour Pool and was no longer attached to the 18th Battalion. He did rejoin the Battalion January 17, 1919 at Allner, Germany.
[xiii] He was classified B 2 as being undersize and debility. These records do not exist but another Board indicated he complained of nervousness and “weakness” and remarked that there was no sign of these conditions no longer existed.
[xiv] Lance-Corporal George Arthur Brettingham, reg. no. 739520. This soldier served in the 18th Battalion and was killed in action, ironically one day after this letter was published, on October 10, 1918 near Iwuy, France.
[xv] The meaning of this oblique reference is unknown.
[xvi] This is Pte. Fred Kirkley Harrison, reg. no. 739541. He served with the 3rd Field Bakery, Canadian Army Service Corp.