The Archives of Ontario Remembers Our Canadian War Heroes

The Archives of Ontario Remembers Our Canadian War Heroes

The Archives has recently acquired a series of letters written from the battlefront during World War One by brothers, Charlie and Wally Gray.

These letters were composed between 1915-1916 by two very ordinary young men. They are touching in their simplicity and, at this time of remembrance, reach us in a way that history texts rarely do.

The Archives of Ontario thanks donors Walter C. Gray and Ronald C. Gray for their gift of these very personal family letters and photographs.

You are invited to read a selection of these letters, listen to excerpts from them and view photographs and drawings selected from other First World War collections held by the Archives.

Studio Photograph of Charles and Walter Gray  posing in their uniforms prior to shipping overseas to fight in World War I
Click to see a larger version (31K)
Studio Photograph of Charles and Walter Gray
posing in their uniforms prior to shipping overseas
Reference Code: F 4383-30
Archives of Ontario

Alfred and Emily Gray and their family emigrated to Canada in 1913 from Northfleet in Kent, England. They settled in the Earlscourt area of West Toronto, located along St. Clair Avenue east of Old Weston Road. They had eleven children including Charles Robert (1891_1916) and Walter Henry (1895-1974).

Studio Photograph of Alfred and Emily Gray from the private collection of Walter C. Gray
Click to see a larger version (50K)
Studio Photograph of Alfred and Emily Gray
from the private collection of Walter C. Gray
Reference Code: F 4383-30
Archives of Ontario

After the outbreak of the First World War it wasn't long before Charlie and Wally decided to enlist, in keeping with the Gray family tradition of military service.

Together they joined the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry in the spring of 1915, and only two years after emigrating to Canada, they shipped back to Europe to fight with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in France.

Charlie and Wally were typical of many residents of Earlscourt. The district was heavily populated with immigrants from Britain who remained loyal to their homeland and it is said that Earlscourt sent a greater proportion of its men to fight in the First World War than any other area in Canada.

The Prince of Wales, on his visit to Canada in 1919, made a special point of visiting Earlscourt to thank the residents for their huge contribution to the war effort.

Here are two of the letters that Charlie Gray wrote to his parents from the trenches at Ypres. This letter was written when Charlie and Wally had not been long in the trenches.

Charlie seems light_hearted, and more concerned about his service pay than with the enemy, even though the Germans are so close he can hear them singing.
Maple Leaf Cap Badge Click here to listen to an excerpt from this letter in "wav" format (284K). It is also available in "aif" format (391K)

Letter dated August 20, 1915, from Charlie Gray to his parents Alfred and Emily
Click to see a larger version (81K)
Letter dated August 20, 1915,
from Charlie Gray to his parents Alfred and Emily
Reference Code: F 4383-8
Archives of Ontario

Here, the reality of life in the trenches has begun to sink in. Charlie and Wally are living with constant noise, mud and the very real threat of having their heads shot off by snipers.

Letter dated September 24, 1915, from Charlie Gray to his parents Alfred and Emily
Click to see a larger version (114K)
Letter dated September 24, 1915,
from Charlie Gray to his parents Alfred and Emily
Reference Code: F 4383-12
Archives of Ontario

Charlie and Wally also received letters from family and friends. Here is one from their mother, Emily.

Charlie and Wally have been away for about a year, and though their mother is clearly worried, she urges her sons to keep up their spirits.

Maple Leaf Cap Badge click here to listen to an excerpt from this letter in "wav" format (212K). It is also available in "aif" format (292K)


Letter dated 18 May 1916, from Emily Gray to her sons Wally and Charlie
Click to see a larger version (143K)
Letter dated May 18, 1916,
from Emily Gray to her sons Wally and Charlie
Reference Code: F 4383-20
Archives of Ontario


Letter dated July 10, 1916, from Wally Gray to his parents Alfred and Emily

Click to see a larger version (111K)
Letter dated July 10, 1916,
from Wally Gray to his parents Alfred and Emily
Reference Code: F 4383-26
Archives of Ontario

On 3 June 1916 Charlie was killed at the Ypres salient and Wally was badly wounded by shrapnel. While Wally was recovering in a hospital in Wales, he wrote this letter home to his mother.

Maple Leaf Cap Badge click here to listen to an excerpt from this letter in "wav" format (600K). It is also available in "aif" format (826K)

Commemorative scroll presented posthumously to Pte. Charles Robert Gray
Commemorative scroll presented posthumously to
Pte. Charles Robert Gray
Reference Code: F 4383-27
Archives of Ontario

The letters and photographs featured above are part of the Gray family fonds (Reference Code: F 4383). They, and other military records, are available for research and study at the Archives of Ontario.

If you found the Gray letters intriguing, you also may find the following First World War photographs and drawings of interest. Visit the Archives' Visual Database to see more digitized images on a wide variety of topics.

Photo: Men of the Canadian 9.2 having their midday meal, 1st Siege Battery, [ca. 1918]
Click to see a larger version (645K) 
Men of the Canadian 9.2 having their midday meal, 1st Siege Battery, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer.
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-10-26
Archives of Ontario, I0004836
Photo: A Canadian miner resting after a heavy night's work, [ca. 1918]
Click to see a larger version (297K)
A Canadian miner resting after
a heavy night's work, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer.
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-10-15
Archives of Ontario, I0004825


Photo: A Canadian Tommy soldier covered in mud returning from the front lines, [ca. 1918]
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A Canadian Tommy soldier covered in mud returning from the front lines, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer.
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-9-23
Archives of Ontario, I0004782
A Canadian Battalion in a Bayonet Charge on the Somme, [ca. 1918]
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A Canadian Battalion in a Bayonet Charge on the Somme, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-9-18
Archives of Ontario, I0004777


Photo: A Thanksgiving Service attended by Canadian troops being held in the Cambrai Cathedral, October 13, 1918
Click to see a larger version (606K)
A Thanksgiving Service attended by Canadian troops being held in the Cambrai Cathedral, October 13, 1918
Unknown photographer.
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-10-39
Archives of Ontario, I0004849
Photo: A Canadian soldier drinking hot coffee 100 yards from the German lines at Hill 70, [ca. 1918]
Click to see a larger version (320K)
A Canadian soldier badly wounded in his shoulder and leg drinking hot coffee at a soup kitchen 100 yards from the German lines at Hill 70, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer.
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-10-10
Archives of Ontario, I0004820
Photo: Interior of a Military Hospital at Christmas time, [ca. 1918]
Click to see a larger version (319K)   
Interior of a military hospital showing patients,
visitors and nurses during
Christmas time, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer.
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-11-21
Archives of Ontario, I0004870
Print: Soldiers on the road to Steenvoorde, 1917
Click to see a larger version (1.2MB)  
Soldiers on the road to Steenvoorde, 1917
Lieut. Cyril Barraud
Print
Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-18
Archives of Ontario, I0003116


Photo: Cloth Hall Tower, Ypres, [ca. 1918]
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Cloth Hall Tower, Ypres, [ca. 1918]
Photographer Unknown
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-9-1
Archives of Ontario, I0004760
Print: The ruins of Ypres, [ca. 1915]
Click to see a larger version (319K)
The Ruins of Ypres, [ca. 1915]
Bertram Buchanan
Print
Reference Code: C 334-1-5-0-1
Archives of Ontario, I0003125


Vote Kemp to win the war - [voter card, Dominion election, December 17, 1917]
Click to see a larger version (114 K)
Vote Kemp to win the war
[voter card, Dominion election, December 17, 1917]
Archives of Ontario Library Pamphlets Collection
PAMPH 1917 #137

Canada's Answer - a poem - [voter card, Dominion election, December 17, 1917]
Click to see a larger version (129K)
Canada's Answer - a poem
[voter card, Dominion election, December 17, 1917]
Archives of Ontario Library Pamphlets Collection
PAMPH 1917 #137