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GUEST OPINION: Protecting land for Islanders
Collection being shared on community's website leading up to 100th anniversary of armistice
CLYDE RIVER, P.E.I. - Lee Darrach’s knee would never be the same.
He had been fighting in France, most likely the Battle of Arras, when he was hit with an explosive.
It was time to get out of the infantry, he wrote his brother, Jack, in Boston.
“Thank God, I did not get any of the shell. It shook me up pretty bad.”
That was one of 32 letters the Clyde River native sent to his brother over the course of the First World War.
Vivian Beer has been posting them on the community’s website in the months leading up to the 100th anniversary of the armistice.
The letters came in 2015 from a relative in Florida. The Clyde River history committee had sought photos and artifacts to be featured in their museum.
Beer transcribed them this spring and decided they should be shared.
“The letters give the reader a front-row-centre view of the war without the benefit of the mounds of historical interpretation that would come later,” she said.
“Lee describes in detail what they were fed, what they were paid and the conditions under which they fought.”
One account describes how a comrade got stuck in the mud for 27 hours.
“All we could do is give him plenty of rum and a sand bag to rest his head on.”
All we could do is give him plenty of rum and a sand bag to rest his head on.”
Another soldier was killed by a sniper during the rescue.
Lee and Jack Darrach grew up in Clyde River and later moved to Boston.
When the war broke out, Lee sailed to England to enlist with the British Armed Forces. Canada had not yet joined the war effort at that point.
A machine gunner with the Lancaster Fusiliers, he fought in England and France and, in 1916, he joined the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to defend the Suez Canal against the Turkish army in the Battle of Romani.
UPEI history professor Ed MacDonald says gunners like Darrach were at greater risk than those who fought in the Second World War.
“The lines were static, the enemy was able to pinpoint where you had stationed your guns, and they would shell you as well as the trenches.”
Still, Beer said, Darrach preferred to be at the front.
“He considered that a safer place than the camps, where soldiers were dying of spotted fever.”
Darrach was “fed up” with how long the war was taking, he wrote while recovering in hospital.
“I suppose I will have to go back again soon to France, and believe me, I have seen enough of France.”
Beer said Darrach’s messages give a powerful look inside the Great War.
“Letters offer more of an emotional and authentic connection to understanding history.”
They also drive home the hardship, she said.
“These soldiers sacrificed their lives so we could enjoy more peaceful times,” she said.
“We can never take this for granted. We carry their legacy. They have earned our full respect.”
To view the letters, visit clyderiverpei.com.