From Ruth and Rob Ward
We were intrigued by a recent ASA E-flash asking for volunteers to transcribe a collection of letters in cursive writing from the Aurora Museum archive so they could be digitised and published online. We contacted the Museum coordinator right away.
The first two letters she sent us came from the Newmarket Friends (Quakers) archive and were dated 1940. They concerned administrative matters about their meetings. I keyed them as best I could and then we went over them again and between us were able to decipher the writing and compile the transcription notes, but to be honest the content was dull.
The second batch of letters we received were much more interesting and took a lot more effort to transcribe. The first one we tackled was easy in terms of making out the handwriting, but so interesting. It was a love letter from “B” dated July 1917. It mentioned the Fleury family (a friend of the writer’s mother) and their “closed in Ford” which was presumably an indication of that family’s status in Aurora at the time.
B was very smitten with her “Dear Harvester”. We were left wanting to know so much more. Who was “B”? Why did she ask her beloved Lea to burn the letter (which he obviously never did)? Does the reference to “Harvester” mean he was working in the fields?
The other letter in that batch had an earlier date, January 1917, and was from the same collection belonging to Lea. It was postmarked Texas. It took a lot of work by us both to decipher the writing as it was a faint scrawl, probably written in pencil.
The writer was in the 8th U.S. Cavalry fighting Mexican bandits near Marfa. He had heard that his Canadian friend wanted to join the Flying Corps, but he preferred “playing” with Mexicans over Germans. The letter tells of a raid by fifty bandits with one American being shot in the leg. It also suggests that stable duty was almost a full-time occupation for him.
This letter gave us insight into a little-known snippet of American history which was happening at the same time as WW1 was raging in Europe. We wanted to know more about this soldier and the adventures he had in Texas. Did he survive his military service, or was he a casualty of a skirmish with the Mexicans?
This letter predated the love letter, so Lea had not joined up by July. Perhaps he was too young? Did Lea eventually join the Flying Corps, and if so, did he serve in Europe and come home? We wanted to know much more about the adventures of both men.
Perhaps some of you also volunteered to transcribe letters, and if so, it would be interesting to hear about your experience. To be honest, we were disappointed to find that there were so many volunteers that all the letters in Phase 1 of the project have been transcribed, but the coordinator says more will become available when they have had the time to scan them. We can’t wait!