My Dearest Alice….

Darrell Cole
Published on November 6, 2014
Clare Christie looks at an electronic cover of her new book My Dear Alice: War Letters 1939-1950. The book includes letters written back and forth between relatives across the Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War.
Darrell Cole -

AMHERST  - It was been almost a decade ago that Clare Christie came across a bundle of letters between her mother and relatives in England during the Second World War.

Working with distant relative Carol Wills of Oxford, England, the pair have compiled the letters into a new book that paints a picture of the hardships of war on the home front on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I remember when I first got the letters there was this note attached from mom saying she had kept them in case anyone should be interested in family letters from England during the war,” Christie said. “As soon as I saw them I was enthralled. It was like mom was wanting to preserve a piece of the past to share what it was like to live in wartime.”

Christie said she was excited to read the letters while for Wills it was the first time she had ever seen her grandmothers’ handwriting.

In 2005, Wills visited from England and the pair of them decided to create a book from the letters so that others could read the correspondence between Amherst and England when the fate of the free world hung in the balance.

After spending several years looking for a publisher, New World Publishing agree to publish the book and while it took longer than she hoped, the book will go on sale at Christmas at the Forum in Halifax on Saturday.

A local launch will be held at the Cumberland County Museum on Nov. 19 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. while the James Layton Ralston Armoury will host another reception on Nov. 25 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Copies of the book will be for sale at both local events while Christie’s other books will also be available.

The 276-page My Dear Alice includes letters from 1939 to 1950 and talk about the start of the Second World War, the imposition of rationing, the bombing of Liverpool, Canada’s war effort and the continued pain and shortages in the five years following the war.

It includes the letters that went back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean from Alice Christie’s relatives in England in response to parcels she sent over to help with the war effort.

In the packages she included news, essentials that were rationed for the war effort and a few luxury items like chocolate, hair nets, stockings and cheese slices – all meant to brighten the spirits of her relatives during the darkest days of the war.

Christie said the book is more of a social history of the war through the civilians who lived through it. The letters also give a woman’s perspective on the war, and while the letters talk of family life and the difficulties of raising children in wartime there are also insightful accounts of the war’s progress by Alice’s aunts Berta and Helen.

She said she knew she was on to something with her mother’s letters when she took the bundle of original letters to a neighbour at the shore. Michael Swift, who has since passed away, was an archivist with the federal government.

“When he brought them back they were protected by plastic and there was a pair of white gloves. He told me these letters were a national treasure and needed to be published,” Christie said. “At the time we were both pretty busy so we decided we’d work on it later. There came a time in 2008 that we were spending time together. I sat down to put things together. Carol had already transcribed a lot of the letters. We started talking to publishers to see who would print it.”

Amherst historian John G. McKay has written a preface for the book while Wills includes a recollection of a week at the Christie cottage at the shore in 2005 when she and Christie talked about the letters.

“The letters are not about the front, which is what makes it so special. There are two brothers who do write about parcels they have received, but most of the correspondence is about living on the home front during the war and the sacrifices that were being made in support of the war,” Christie said. “They wrote very perceptive letters about the direction the war was heading and the policies that were being implemented. There was also talk of the Americans and how difficult it was not to snap back at them and to put up with their remarks.”

Christie said the book and the letters are a reflection of a bygone era when most people communicated by pen and paper, as opposed to using email and social media. The book also include a number of family photographs and a timeline of what was taking place in the world during the time period covered.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell