Lest We Forget – A Young Soldier’s last letter home from somewhere in France

In 2019, Saugeen Times published the story of Irvin Emery Reinhart, a young 17-year-old who went off to war on February 3, 1916.

It was a story, like that of so many young Canadians, of a young boy who never returned home and who only had a brief accounting of his death in the local newspaper [April 17, 1918 Edition of the Port Elgin Times].

Corp. E. Reinhart Dies of Wounds

The Times received word on Monday night of the death of Emery Reinhart.
He was wounded on September 1st and died on September 16th.
His parents are now living in Stratford where Mr. Reinhart is in the hospital suffering a broken leg.
Sympathy from the people here will be extended to the family.
Emery is buried in the Mont Huon Military cemetery near the city of Le Treport in North West France.

What was discovered however, was that he and Miss Ellen Tranter corresponded and the following is his last letter to her, unearthed by local historian G. William Streeter, from the April 17, 1918 Edition of the Port Elgin Times.

“I read his letter again and found a deep-thinking and compassionate young man,” says Streeter.  “You can only guess how much he enjoyed receiving a letter from Miss Ellen Tranter and how good a person he truly was. Sadly, he died a short time after writing this and his banner hangs on Goderich Street again this year. Miss Ellen Tranter must have been heartbroken when he died.”


Dear Friend:

Your welcomed letter received a short time ago and I was pleased to hear from you once more. Our Canadian mail is about all we have to live for these times. There was a time when we looked for the end of the war, but I don’t think the Ottomans will quit until the last man is gone.

Really, it’s a terror the way they keep at it. In our present position the shells of Fritz and our own pass over us. Once in a while one of them falls short. That is when we duck. There are tons of steel and iron wasted each day in this way –in fact worse than wasted for each shell carries destruction with it. It is just possible that the Germans will run out of mineral before the men play out. That is the only way, I think the war will end. But why worry, I am beginning to think that a fellow’s life is all mapped out for him. There have been times when I thought my time had come. Couldn’t see my way out of it, and still I am here. Certainly, it was not my dodging ability that saved me. A fellow sure realizes his insignificance at such times. But this line of talk will weary you so I will change the subject.

Today is a real pleasant day and the sun is shining and it is quite warm. Quite a change from the weather we have had the last week, cold rain every day and sometimes snow. Our present position is anything but comfortable. We have a funk hole about five feet by six and six feet high. The top of it is about one foot below ground level so you can understand it will be very damp.

This is home for four of us. We have a bed in which two of us can sleep at a time. It consists of grey sandbags, one rubber sheet, two old blankets and three great coats, and takes up three quarters of our home. Consequently, one man has to stay out all the time. We take turns sleeping and so far we have succeeded in averaging about six hours per day. Rather more than we usually get under present conditions. We have to cook our own food too. Some job too, but we are becoming experts at such work. We have better meals than one would expect.

Of course, we buy a lot extras. We have been in the line sixteen days and our crew (four) has spent about one hundred and fifty francs. We buy can red beans, corn, tomatoes, jam and honey rolled oats, canned fruit etc. All these things are very dear and in a few months, it will be impossible to buy them at all. We will have to fall back on the rats then, I guess. There will always be lots of them.

I hope that you will excuse this soiled paper, but it is the last sheet I have. I’ve carried it in my gas mask for over a week. Writing paper is becoming a scarce article out here. And now I will have to ring off for this time. Probably when I write again conditions will be more favourable.

Give my regards to all of the folks around home, and write when you can.

Pte. I. E. Reinhart”

Little did he know … he would never write again.

We Will Remember Them

       Researched by G. William Streeter