An au­then­tic con­nec­tion

Lee Dar­rach’s let­ters to his brother, paint­ing a pic­ture or his wartime ser­vice, be­ing shared on Clyde River web­site lead­ing up to 100th an­niver­sary of ar­mistice

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - THE ISLAND - BY JOSH LEWIS

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.”

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.

JOSH LEWIS/THE GUARDIAN

Vivian Beer has been post­ing First World War let­ters from Clyde River na­tive Lee Dar­rach on the com­mu­nity’s web­site, in the lead-up to the 100th an­niver­sary of the ar­mistice.

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