Soldier Eager to Enlist in Great War

A Canadian soldier was so keen to enlist after the First World War broke out in 1914 that he neglected to tell his sweetheart. Read his letter of explanation.

Posted July 28, 2014

A few days after war was declared in Europe in 1914, twenty-six-year-old John (Jack) Davey of Victoria was one of the first to sign up for duty.

Born in Somerset, England in September, 1888, he emigrated to Canada 1911–1912 and volunteered for service in August 1914. Davey was wounded and taken prisoner in April 1915.

While a prisoner he had his leg amputated, and then was later returned to England during a prisoner exchange. During his time in service, he wrote letters to his sweetheart Kate, who later became his wife.

The following letter to Kate was written on August 16, 1914, while he was in basic training at Bamfield Creek, British Columbia.

My Dearest Kate,

Just a few lines in answer to your most welcome letter. I was glad to hear that you had a good time at the picnic but sorry to hear that you had such a nasty tumble & hope you are not feeling any the worse for it.

It seems funny that when you go away anywhere that something is always bound to happen It’s not my fault this time anyhow but I guess I have to take the blame of all the rest (I should bibble[?])

You must please excuse writing as my writing table is a cardboard box on my knees in the guard tent this is my turn on guard so I am taking the opportunity of writing to you while I am quiet. Its no use trying to write in the room where all the fellows are as some are boxing some punching ball some skipping & the rest playing cards so its almost impossible to write letters there.

I have managed to swipe a pen & ink to write this with while the owner was not looking I guess Jim is feeling pretty happy away from [?]cia (I dont think) If he is feeling like I am a couple of hours on a nice quiet beach or an Island (when the tide is not coming in) would do him a lot of good, but I guess we have to grin and bear it for a while but making up for lost time will be great what say you?

I hope you are not mad at me for joining this crowd I had no idea of joining when I left you on the Tuesday night or at least not so soon, but when I got in town I went around to see the bulletins the crowd were so excited & the notice was in the window saying the 88th wanted recruits so I went down & enlisted.

I saw Jack Hibberd at headquarters & he got me in his company & we had orders to parade the next day at eleven oclock but we didn’t leave town till nearly two we were kept busy all the morning getting our equipment strapped up In fact I hadn’t time to go home to dinner or else I should have looked in to see you before I left sorry to hear you felt so miserable on the Thursday night but cheer up dear I will be back again some day.

Sorry to hear you are getting so rushed about at the store. I guess the war makes quite a difference to you there with the crowds around reading the bulletins but I suppose the bands cheer you up some. The band that took us to Esquimalt played the Girl I left behind me. I guess there are lots of them these days.

This bunch here must have left quite a lot behind as they are always receiving letters & sending them some of them get two or three letters twice a week. In cases like that it should be the Girls I left behind I should like to be in Victoria for the next Picnic at Deep Cove as I have never been there & I believe it is a lovely place but never mind Dear we’ll have a picnic on our own when I do get back again I hope those pictures Frank took of you come out alright as I should like to have one of you by yourself in a group I think I have all I need for the present in my kit bag.

Thanks very much for offering to send me anything I require I may be wanting something after a while but we can get almost anything we want at the store up here Yes they are looking after us pretty good considering but a nice mattress would be a luxury now after sleeping on a board floor for nearly two weeks still manage to sleep pretty good

Tonight we have Salmon steaks for supper quite a treat after Bully Beef & Beans. The cook has made one batch of real good bread but the one we are eating now is awful He say’s we eat too much when he makes it good & there’s a lot in that too.

There is a rumour going around here now that some of us are to be sent to Fanning Island that is a cable station in the Pacific about 3,000 miles out & the latest is that all those who volunteered for Foreign Service are going back to Victoria so if that’s right it wont be long before I see you but we can never depend on yarns we hear up here.

We have been clearing land here lately & putting a barb wire fence all around the place & a lookout tower for the sentry We only work 4 hrs a day on that work so it’s not too bad & we are all trying to beat the next one at hiding out of sight & pretend to be doing something when the officer comes around.

Well Dear I dont think I have any more to say just now so will close with heaps of love & kisses for yourself & kind regards to all Friends hoping to see you soon XXXXX

Ever Yours


Pleased to say I have got rid of that cough

Since writing this we have had pretty reliable news that those who volunteered for foreign service are to return to Victoria ready to be shipped to Quebec for training. Expect to leave here about Tuesday if report is correct Jack

You can read all of Jack Davey’s letters to Kate at the Canadian Letters and Images Project.

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