Letters and postcards that Andrew Lawrence Lowe sent home to his family during the First World War. Collection courtesy of Andrew Lowe's daughter, Sandra Donin.Letters and postcards that Andrew Lawrence Lowe sent home to his family during the First World War. Collection courtesy of Andrew Lowe's daughter, Sandra Donin.
My name is Sandra Donin. My father, Andrew Lowe, was born in Winnipeg in 1897, and he joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, the Cyclist Platoon, in Winnipeg when he was nineteen years old. I recall him describing the celebratory atmosphere as the boys fell into line behind the marching band, to much cheering and clapping, thinking that they were going off to fight the war to end all wars.
I think he was everyone's fair-haired 'boy next door', as he received a send-off at the train station, and parcels and letters that I'm sure would rival royalty. One of the things I remember him personally telling me was when he left from Halifax on the troop ship and standing at the side, thinking probably what many of the boys were thinking, just wondering if he was ever going to see his country again.
He was stationed first in Seaforth, England, and his clerical skills became invaluable, and his letters from there, and initially from France, reflected a longing to get to the front and do his part. He had been employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a private secretary to the General Manager, and as such I think he had pretty good skills at shorthand and typing. This was very valuable to the officers.
When he was sent to the front, his letters of course were censored, but bits pieces do come through. Casualties were high, and one letter recalls going out the next day to bring back the bodies of two of his comrades. As they marched through France and Belgium, he poignantly recalls the warmth of the reception from the people from the towns and countryside, and being able to sleep in the first clean sheets the soldiers had seen in a long time. He also wrote of days of going without a change of clothing and having no underwear at all, just their scratchy uniforms, and the infestation of lice that they used to crack between their fingers. He documented crossing the Rhine, with each soldier taking an individual salute from the General, and that, I think, was on the 13th of December in 1918.
At war's end, I was really struck by the lack of communication that was reflected in his letters. While the great powers were deciding the map of Europe in Paris in 1919, the soldiers knew very little of what was going on, and indeed wondered how they were ever going to get home.