This Week in History


To my Dearest Brothers ...

For the week of Monday, December 14, 2015

In December 1917, Lance Corporal John Franklin ‘Frank’ McCrady tucked the menu of his Christmas dinner in the trenches into an embroidered card and sent it home to his brothers. It was one of millions of letters per year exchanged between Canadian soldiers of the First World War and their loved ones. Thanks to the Canadian Postal Corps, this simple holiday greeting made its way from ‘somewhere in France’ to the family’s farm in Lyn, Ontario.

Canadian soldiers at Salisbury Plain receive Christmas letters. A Soldier’s Letter League ensured that even those without a family received holiday greetings.
© Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada

Established in May 1911, the Canadian Postal Corps, or ‘Morale Department’ as it was often known among soldiers, provided an important link between Canadians at home and overseas. The thousands of parcels and envelopes delivered to soldiers each day carried encouraging words from loved ones, maple syrup and homemade treats, local newspapers, and other reminders of daily life at home. The soldiers’ replies, censored to remove any classified information, provided those at home with brief glimpses into life at the front, and the important reassurance that their men were safe.

Lance Corporal McCrady’s Christmas card would have been collected during mail call by a mobile brigade field post office on the front. These offices travelled with assigned brigades to provide a permanent ‘address’ for soldiers constantly on the move. From there, the card and thousands like it travelled by trains and trucks to the nearest coastal port, probably Le Havre, to be loaded on a boat bound for England. Arriving by train at the depot in London, the mail was sorted and sent to Liverpool, where a ship brought it to Halifax or Quebec City. McCrady’s card was delivered to Brockville Post Office and from there made its way to nearby Lyn.

Lance Corporal Frank McCrady’s Christmas card
© Chris McCrady

The delivery process was long and complex, and it often took weeks for a letter to cross the Atlantic. However, for the McCrady family, it was well worth the wait to know that Frank was alive and that he had spent his Christmas safe and happy, enjoying a dinner of roast beef and English plum pudding!

Former Brockville Post Office, the final stop on the Christmas card’s journey, was designated as a national historic site in 1983.

It is the centennial anniversary of the First World War. To learn more, visit the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page. For more on daily life of Canadian soldiers, read August 1914: Canada Prepares for War, Rations for the Mind, and Christmas at the Front in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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