Feb 242012

When I was back in Ontario this summer, we had a small family reunion with my mom’s Hird cousins.  One of them brought along a large box of old family photos and memorabilia.  Included in this box was an album of postcards from World War I.  These postcards had been collected by Edward Downard (1881-1841), the husband of Bessie Melville (my mom’s great aunt) and son of George Downard and Mary Vaughn.

During the first two years of the war (1914-1916-ish), Edward was a Staff-Sergeant with the No. 2 Canadian General Hospital.  The postcards are mostly from this time and they show some of the locations in England where the staff of the No. 2 trained (Bulford, Market Lavington and the Salisbury Plain).  More interestingly, however, the postcards document in detail the daily life at the No. 2 General Hospital when it was stationed on the Normandy coast in Le Tréport, France.  They show the daily life at the hospital: life in the wards, life as a wounded soldier, growing a garden, the hospital mascot (Pete the Duck).  They also show some of the extraordinary events which occurred: a storm which blew down the hospitals’ tents in September 1915; a VIP visit from Sir Robert Borden, the Prime Minister of Canada and Sir Max Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook; the funeral of a major who accidentally fell off a cliff; and Dominion Day and Christmas celebrations.

Many of these postcards were sent to Edward’s fiancé Bessie Melville and are inscribed on the back.  The inscriptions tell the story of Ed’s life at the hospital.  He was in charge of the linen stores.  He distributed the linens to the wards, and he was responsible for having the linens cleaned.  To do this, he would travel twice a week to Dieppe (a name all too familiar to Canadians) where there was a laundry factory which had the equipment necessary to clean the linens.  Ed’s postcards mention some of his friends and colleagues in the linen stores and in the sergeant’s mess: George Harris, Samuel Bartlett, Wally Robinson, and Leon Jackson.

The bulk of the postcards seem to come from a local photographer in Le Tréport named E. Arnault.  His photos also show up in a postcard collection by a Canadian nurse named Alice Issacson. Her collection can be found at the Library and Archives Canada site here.

Around 1917, Ed was promoted and was transferred to the No. 16 Canadian General Hospital in Orpington, Kent.  There are very few photographs after this time, likely because there was no local photographer interested in documenting the hospital as had been the case in Le Tréport.

I was really moved by this album which showed a different side to the war.  My husband and I scanned the entire album and I have uploaded it to Flickr with the hopes that anyone who is interested in it may find it.   We are currently trying to find a good home for the non-virtual album.

You can also find more information about the No. 2 Canadian General Hospital in the Colonel’s and Matron’s Diaries which are posted on the Library and Archives Canada site.

Below are a few choice photos of Edward Downard.


Edward Downard (foreground) in one of the wards

Edward Downard and the sergeants of the No. 2 Canadian General Hospital

Edward Downard (bald head) carrying the casket at Major William Pearson Dillon’s funeral. Dillon fell off a cliff near the hospital and died.

Edward Downard and Luxe the dog

Edward Downard and the linen stores

Edward Downard and the linen stores

Edward Downard (right) with the linens, possibly on the way to Dieppe

Feb 222012

I’ve been messing around with the blog design and fixing up some things that had gone awry with the database site.  It was painful and I don’t want to talk about it really.  But it’s done.  And I’m not touching it again for a while.

Coming soon though:

– A post on an amazing photo/postcard album from World War I.

– How I think I’m making progress on finding my poor Irish ancestors.



 Posted by at 9:26 am