Transcribed by Frank McLeod, firstname.lastname@example.org
Author and historian Ada Ramsay McLeod 1867-1932, and husband Neil McLeod 1853-1934, were prominent residents of Summerside. A number of letters written to son William in Saskatchewan have been preserved. These edited portions give an interesting account of their pilgrimage to Ypres, Belgium, where their 20 year old son John died in 1917. All of these letters are deposited with the McNaught Centre and Charlottetown Archives as "a scene from the life of the McLeod family of PEI."
Frank McLeod email@example.com
Feb’y 19 1928 Summerside
My dear Alice and Will
If nothing turns up to prevent, we are going to cross the ocean this spring. We have been wishing to visit Sanctuary Wood where Jack lies somewhere and see the great Menin Gate Memorial to the missing at Ypres, and now that Neil is a graduate doctor I begin to agitate to go. Father is getting up in years and it will be our last trip, so I hope we can get away. We are to leave Quebec on the Megantic May 31 and return on the Doric leaving Glasgow August 24th. I am sorry I am such an idiot about seasickness but I think I’ll try the "Mothersills," although I have a great dislike of drugs of all sorts. I am never sick at home but motion seems to set up a bilious condition. I am resigned to put up with it for the sake of getting there.
With much love, Mother
London, June 18 1928
I have quite retrieved my reputation as a sailor for I didn’t miss one single meal on board, and they were square meals I can assure you as the sea air makes you so hungry and we walked miles on deck. A very nice crowd in the tourist class. The Megantic is a very steady ship. We landed at Tillbury Docks (where Queen Elizabeth reviewed her ships before the Armada battle) went by train to London. Mostly pasture land en route. Very lush. Great herds of sheep and market gardens. We sent our trunk to Edinburgh to be rid of it, so live in our grips just now. This afternoon we went to service in Westminster Abbey, and looked around, a great circle of people about the grave of the unknown soldier. Such majestic buildings and such history everywhere. We are staying here a week and then going to Belgium. Will write later. Love to you and Will and the boys. Mother
Edinburgh July 15
My dear Alice
I have not missed a single meal since leaving home although I have crossed the Channel, not to speak of the ocean. We visited Oxford, Stratford, Bambury, the tower, spent an interesting afternoon in Carlyle’s house. We were struck in England by the lack of cultivated fields – all in pasture. It seems that the price of farm labor is set by statute so high that farmers cannot afford it and it pays them better to raise sheep and cattle. The English are not an agricultural people anyway. I think all they raise would just keep the country two days. After London we set out for Belgium and at Ostend calamity befell us. Going through the customs there was the most terrific crush I ever was in. I told Papa I was glad I was an able-bodied woman to be able to shove, but when we got on the train for Bruges he discovered he had been robbed of his wallet from his inside coat pocket containing all his possessions except his passport: a letter of credit, travelers cheques, our return ship tickets, and our train tickets from Montreal. Talk about being stunned! Four thousand miles from home with just $2.70. Fortunately our board in Belgium was prepaid. We went first to Bruges and sent to Roderick in Edinburgh for money which came by return mail. We stayed four days in Ypres and a Captain Parmenter took us to Sanctuary Wood. The trees of course had been wiped out by shells and the soil plowed up, but the young trees are growing again from the roots and in time will be a forest again. I think I like that more for the dear lads resting place than the formal rows of crosses, although the cemeteries are so beautifully kept. There are 18 war cemeteries in Ypres itself. The Menin Gate Memorial is most impressive with the lion on the summit looking out over what was No Man’s land and the rows of names of the missing, 36,000 of them on the walls. The ramparts are a wonderful sight running above the canal around part of the city, built years ago and with great holes on the outside from the pounding of shells but still impregnable. The people certainly work the fields here, every inch of land cultivated mostly by hand and everything so rich looking. Every field is surrounded by a row of young trees to replace the ones destroyed. Ypres is rebuilt with the houses as much as possible like they were. Just one house was left standing. We were much interested in the dogs delivering the milk. Sometimes there would be a woman pushing the milk cart and a dog pulling below. Numbers of women had a yoke across their shoulders and a big milk can swinging from each end. You couldn’t feel sorry for them as they looked so fit swinging along with easy stride. One regretted so the barrier of language as I would have liked to talk to the older women and to have heard their experiences. They seemed to have something deep in their eyes as those who have suffered much.
As near as possible to the spot where Jack and his comrades were killed by a mine I chose a little oak tree and under it I placed some sweet william seeds from the home garden and then a vat of earth from the yard. Then I filled the vat with earth from the spot and half of this will go in my grave and half in Father’s when our time comes. I am sending you a leaf from the little oak tree.
We visited a number of old castles famed in Scottish border warfare, Warkworth, the Percy’s in Henry the fourth. Then we came by motor bus to Edinburgh. These Char-a-banes go everywhere through the country and are almost ruining the railways. Such a wonderful view of distant hills as I see out of the window where I am writing. I do not think there is any city in the world to compare with Edinburgh for beauty of situation.
Much love, Mother