Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the annual observation of the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I.
To honor the anniversary, The Ottawa Herald has partnered with Emily Kirkpatrick, daughter of the late World War I veteran Pvt. Jesse S. Blake, to publish excerpts from a series of letters Blake wrote to his stateside family from various locations in France during the war. Blake was a lifelong Ottawa resident.
The letters offer a look into the soldier’s exposure to the triumphs and horrors of the First World War.
Editor note: Punctuation and capitalization in Blake’s letters have been edited for clarity.
October 27, 1918, France
Dear Mother: Just a line to let you know I am still among the living and glad of it. Am feeling fine. How is everybody at home? Will write more in a day or two.
November 12, 1918, France (the day after Armistice Day)
Dear Mother & All,
Well, Mother I guess it is about finished. I mean the War of course. I suppose you know about it though but I just wanted to tell you, too.
The French people sure are celebrating. Yesterday when the news came over the wire that the Armistice was signed they nearly went wild. The bells rang all day and most of the night. They were happy because the war was soon to be over.
We don’t know how long we will be over here after everything is all fixed up but at any rate we will know that we won’t be thrown into a big dive. We may have to stay and help fix up this country. It sure is torn up.
I got two letters from you and Ora yesterday and you were telling me about the influenza over there. I hope it is better now. We haven’t had a great deal of it here. Hope it dont get started here. We have been on the move for three or four days but have been resting here though since Sunday. Hope the next move we make will be towards home. What is everybody doing around home? I suppose they are busy getting ready for Winter. Well, I don’t think this winter will be as hard on us now, as it would have been had we been fighting all winter. I guess there is no question that it is now over; the guns stopped firing yesterday at 11:00 on Nov 11, 1918. Yes, Mother, I got those pictures you sent. Sure was glad you sent them. Although it makes me a little bit homesick to look at them. It has been trying to rain this morning awfully foggy now.
Hope it dont rain. We have plenty of rain over here — five times as much as we need — it seems like it rains every time we start on a hike. Well, that is all I can think of for this time Don’t worry Mother, I am ok and hope to be home soon
November 18, 1918, France
Dear Mother & All,
...There are several small French villages near us that have been deserted for three of four years, ever since the war started I guess. The people are moving back in them now. Some of them come back to their homes and find them alright while the houses all around them have been blown to pieces. They don’t seem to mind that much, now that they have peace, and go to work to build them up again.
I suppose you folks are very glad the war is over. But you folks back there don’t know what war is. If you could see some of France that has been in the war zone for four years you would have a very different idea of the thing. To say it is awful is speaking very light of it. Sherman said war was Hell, and he didn’t know what war was either. I don’t know what he would say had he been in this one and seen them use all the tools of modern warfare but thank God its over now; at least we hope so, although either side can start things again in 48 hours notice. The allies won’t unless they have to and I don’t think Germany can. She is one whipped country.
How is my niece? I got a letter from her the other day & she said she had been sick tho’t she had Spanish influ. Hope she is better now.
Well I guess I will close,
J. S. Blake
December 8, 1918, Sampigny, France
My Dearest Mother & all,
Well as this is Sunday and also my 24th birthday I will try and write you a letter. I have been neglecting it for two or three weeks and I know you are getting anxious to hear from me. I have been getting letters from you and Ora and also got the birthday cards you sent. Sure are pretty. I will send you some postal cards of the country around here soon. Until the last two or three weeks we were not allowed to send any pictures but some of the boys managed to get some through I guess.
...How is the influenza getting — have they checked it yet? I hope none of you folks have it. I am feeling fine. Haven’t had a sick day since I left Doniphan...
...I suppose there was lots of excitement about November 11th wasn’t there? Well they sure did celebrate over here. Well Mother, if I am not at home Xmas you can eat a piece of turkey for me. Mother, beings as the war is over and there isn’t much danger of me stopping a whiz bang I won’t write as often as I have been, besides I may be home before long.