Dear Alice

Set of letters documenting the love story of two Canadians during World War I

Agassiz resident Mary Lambier has compiled a book full of letters corresponding her parent's love affair during World War I.

Local resident Dorothy Lambier, has a legacy, that has spanned the generations and been frozen in time with a compilation of letters that document the correspondence between her father who was a Canadian soldier during World War I and her mother Alice.  The book is entitled Dear Alice: Letters from the Front during World War I.

Lambier’s poignant introduction is as follow’s:

This is a love story.

It is also the account of the outstanding courage and bravery of the Canadian troops who fought in the First World War, known as the “War to end all Wars”.

“Very few people understand the impact of this conflict on the lives of the men and also on their families,” Lambier told The Observer. “It was an opportunity for me to tell my family’s story, and to create a historical document as well,” she said of piecing it together with the help of her brother Stanley.

The book was mainly written to honour the memory of Lambier’s father, Private Leonard Lloyd Smith, and for her mother Alice; excerpts were taken from his journal, and carefully compiled to note the chronology of the romance between them. It was also written with the intent to share an important moment in history with an art form that is being lost.

The art of letter writing.

His journal was written on board the troop train and ship while enroute to England. Lambier’s mother was Alice Mary Hall at that time.

Excerpt from Lambier’s introduction:

Dad was born in England, Apr. 6 1887. His father was the head of the British Equitable Insurance Company office in Bristol. His mother was the first lady telegrapher in England. Her father was the post master in the city of Oxford. Due to the fact that the telegraphs were then located in the post offices, she was taught by her father. Later she opened telegraph offices throughout England. This was unusual for a young lady.

Just as Dad’s father was doing well in the insurance business he was diagnosed with brain cancer and died after two years of intense suffering. Although there was life insurance, there was no medical insurance, and the family was left in difficult circumstances.

The family had two sons, Edwin and Leonard, who moved to Canada after deciding there were opportunities in farming. Len spent time learning farming techniques in Darbyshire, before immigrating to Manitoba to work on a farm.

Eventually, through connections, mainly church and community activities, Leonard met Alice who was a teacher. She taught at Sunny View School, in a community west of the town that is currently known as Naicam.

Excerpt from the book:

Though they were great friends, they agreed to no commitment to each other while he was overseas.

Leonard joined the army in 1915, where he commenced with training in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, before finally heading overseas in June 1916.

It was shortly after his departure that he began with letter writing to Alice. It was the beginning of a love affair that has lasted well into their passing.

Letters to Alice:

The first letter written to Alice is accompanied by a sketch, with a soldier and a cherub; on the bottom it says “Tell her that I love her.”

The letter is dated July 2, 1916 Bramshott Camp

Dear Alice:

We arrived here last Thursday night after a rather tedious trip. The run from Liverpool was very nice but the sea trip was anything but enjoyable.

A troopship is very different to a passenger ship. However, we are feeling fairly well settled now and we have splendid quarters. The day after we arrived the 65th was split up to bring other battalions to strength. The M.G.S and Signallers are all put into the platoons again for the time being but we shall probably be called on for our own work later. We are in for real training here.

Yesterday we marched to Aldershot and were inspected by the King. We are attached to the 4th Division and will be leaving for France a good deal sooner than we had expected. They won’t give us leave to see our friends on account of having to get us ready to go with the rest.

It was a splendid sight yesterday. First the king inspected the line and then came the march post. The artillery led and then the infantry. The bayonets looked like a huge crop of steel.

It was the largest military parade I have seen. The march was rather hard on us as we were tired and soft from our trip, but we only had four men drop out. The Colonel was very pleased with the showing we made.

It seems hard to believe I am really in England. The country around here is a bit like Canada, but of course the villages are different. It sure is great to see the old fashioned houses again and the roses are immense. What tickles us most is the old codgers and kids who peddle stuff around camp. Everything is very expensive, more so than in the West. We are getting far better grub than we did in Saskatoon, — no fancy stuff, of course, but clean and wholesome.

I am going to try and find Bob Tarlton this afternoon. His battalion is here but they sent a draft of 150 men to the front a short time ago and he may have gone with them.

I can’t tell you all I have seen as the censor would turn my letter down but I’ll hand it out when I get back.

We are getting to know what discipline is in real earnest. An order is on the jump or things would happen. Our officers are all experienced men and mean business. At the same time they seem very fair and good natured.

When you see Mother will you tell her to address my letter to the 46th Battalion, but not M.G.S. as we are not as a Section now. My address is Pte. 472550 L. Smith, 46th Battalion, Bramshott Camp, Hants, England.

I wish I could enclose a bunch of roses or even a few twigs of ivy, but I’m afraid the distance is a wee bit on the long side.

Remember me to all the folks and accept all you can from.

Your Sincere friend,

Len

Excerpt from the book:

(P.S.) Your smile is getting quite world renowned. Whenever I show my “snaps” (pictures) they all want to know who the “smiley girl” is and wouldn’t I just love to be able to say was mine? Can’t I?

Mary Lambier mentioned the constant love of her father for Alice. It’s a recurring theme throughout the book, and well documented in the letters to Alice, who became his beloved. They were married in Spalding on Nov. 12 1919.

The union produced four children: Robert Lloyd, Stanley James, Jean (who died at two weeks of age) and Dorothy.

Lambier spoke openly of her father’s frayed nerves after the war, something that wasn’t understood at the time, and is gaining better traction, with the acknowledgement of disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Things were difficult for them, as Dad was suffering trauma shock from his war experiences,” she writes in the book. “His nerves were very bad and in those days there was no help for veterans in the form of trauma counselling”.

According to Lambier, his struggle followed him for the rest of his life. He once compared the sound of a hawk’s cry to the sound of a German shell hitting the ground during the war.

Times were tough, and supporting a family was difficult for Len, after the war. Upon Dorothy’s arrival, Alice died of complications from the birth, and Len was heartbroken. With help he reared his family the best he could.

“I said to begin with that this was a love story and a war story. There is a saying that, “All’s fair in love and war,” but this story proves that all is not fair in love and war. Life does not always give us what we dream of,” says Dorothy in the book. “Len and Alice had hopes and dreams that weren’t fulfilled. We have to believe that God has a greater plan that gives hope beyond this world and life’s unfulfilled dreams.

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those that love Him.

1 Corinthians 2:9 (The Bible)

This piece is dedicated to all the veterans and their families who braved war and hardship; to honour their memory, courage, and sense of duty.

For more information or to order copies please email the author at DearAliceBook@gmail.com