Treasure Trove of WWI Letters
Something wonderful happened today: a thick stack of letters written by my grandfather, John Emery Porter (he went by Emery), were given to my dad. My dad had never seen these letters before; he didn’t even know they existed. The letters had been written between 1917 and 1919, and were written by Emery to his sister, Lois. Lois’ grandson gave them to my dad.
The earliest letter recounted Emery’s train trip to Texas, where he readied for “the Great War.” Emery continued to send letters once he was sent to France, throughout the war, then as he waited to be shipped home. The extraordinary letters include passages about a measles outbreak, they recount hearing a soldier’s screams of pain, they describe beautiful tea roses that grew wild in France, capture moments such as the joy of eating cake, C-A-K-E, and the “great week” the war was over. During the war, Emery had to by cryptic about his location (locations are listed as “in the watches” or “nowhere in France,” and censor marks covered the letters and envelopes). But, after the war he could reveal that he was waiting in Saint-Maixent.
I spent a couple of hours this afternoon looking at these letters with my mom and dad. In a few days’ time, they are going to meet with Allen and Frank (my father’s two brothers, ages 89 and 90), who will also see these letters for the first time. Once Allen and Frank have had time to read through them, I will have another opportunity to spend more time with the letters, organize them into chronological order, and carefully read through each one. I can’t wait to see what other moments are revealed!
I never met my grandfather; he passed away from cancer several years before I was born. But, Emery’s letters were funny and insightful, and it allowed me to feel like I got to ‘meet’ him.
Photos: Letters by J. Emery Porter, 1917-1919. In the group photo, he is second from the left.