Life at the Front

The three case studies presented here all concern the lives -- and in one case, the death -- of men at the front during the First World War. In Violets from the Trenches you will be able to hear as well as read the exchange of letters between Roland Leighton, a young British officer, and his sweetheart Vera Brittain. Gerald Blake participated in the legendary Christmas Truce of 1914 and Canadian William Fingland's work with the YMCA took him into the heart of the battle. In addition to these examples, more studies of men in military service can be found in the theme The Hamilton Connection – soldier David Elliot and airman Gerry Bell were both from Hamilton, Ontario. Also, the theme The Soldier Artist and Poet includes studies of four more soldiers who served at the Front. We have included an animated re-creation of a trench raid here.

Violets from the Trenches: Selections from the Letters of Roland Leighton and Vera Brittain

The doomed love story of Roland Leighton and Vera Brittain, shifting as it does from the refined and comfortable drawing rooms of early twentieth century England to the mud of the trenches in France and Flanders during World War I, developed and blossomed through their letters. Selections from this intimate and revealing correspondence are presented here: you can see images of the letters themselves and read the originals or a transcription and you can also listen to them being read by two young people who are the same age now as Roland and Vera were then.

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Home Away from Home: William Fingland and the YMCA in World War I

William Fingland sailed from Toronto for Plymouth aboard the SS Megantic in May 1915. When he landed in Plymouth, he sent [Jan] Etta MacDiarmid, his sweetheart in Toronto, a telegram which simply read “Safe”. For the rest of the First World War he served as an officer with the Canadian YMCA. Known to the Canadian troops as the “Y”, the YMCA became an integral part of the war effort, adopting the motto “Service to the Troops”. For the soldier serving overseas, the “Y” hut became a temporary home and refuge from the ever-present danger of enemy attack.

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Gerald Blake, an English Participant in the Christmas Truce of 1914

Gerald Blake served with the London Rifle Brigade, British Expeditionary Force during the First World War. The Gerald Blake fonds contains more than sixty letters he wrote to his mother and to his brother, Clive, between November 1914 and June 1916. One letter, written on December 27, 1914, sets the stage for the incredible Christmas truce that occurred between British and German troops.

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