Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Surprises in Old Records

I was looking at the Canadian military service records of my great uncle recently. In it you found the sorts of things you would expect. Copies of telegrams, medical records, information about what units he was with and where he was posted.

Sadly, my great uncle died in WWII in Italy, near Rimini, on Sept 16, 1944. When a soldier dies large amounts of paperwork are generated, letters of condolence, telegrams, death benefits, and multiple lists of personal effects. In the case of Pip (my great-uncle) there must have been at least 5 copies of Pip's personal effects, both typed and handwritten. There were telegrams letting his family know that the box was coming, there were records tracking where they were sent, and there was a packing slip for the box of personal effects, and this is where I found my surprise.

Amongst Pip's personal effects were letters. By itself that is no surprise. There were two or three to his mother, and two from girlfriends in England. Once again, no surprise.

The letters from the girlfriends in England were destroyed.

For me, that was a surprise. Why were they destroyed? What was in them? I have had a few relatives suggest that they contained place and unit information and that the letters were destroyed by censors. But the letters were apparently from his girlfriends, not to, so they already passed the censors, so why destroy them? The only thing I can think of is that one or both of them may have revealed that the girlfriend(s) were pregnant, or that she had a child of his.

Pip's father (Frederick William Halls) was a socially prominent figure in Toronto in the 1930's and 40's. Anyone who new anything about Toronto society would have known that he was religious, in all the right clubs, and heavily involved in charitable work. The revelation of a grandchild born out of wedlock would have been quite damaging to his reputation. It is quite possible that whoever destroyed the letters (or ordered them destroyed) knew Fred, and decided to spare him the scandal. Even if my scandal hypothesis is incorrect, given the general attitudes towards children out of wedlock in the 40's, and the military views towards children out of wedlock, perhaps it was simply decided to destroy the letters to spare the family and the military the inconvenience of dealing with a child born out of wedlock.

By now, any child would be about 67 years old. Most likely the child was born in Sussex, because that was where most Canadian troops were based while in England. Given that Pip arrived in England in late Spetember of 1942 and shipped out of England in June of 1943, any child would have been born no later than March of 1944.

There were pictures included in Pip's personal effects. The packing slip did not indicate that any of them were destroyed. I wonder if Fred and Kate were surprised to find an unknown young woman, posssibly holding an infant, amongst the pictures they received?

No comments:

Post a Comment