Antique store wants to return Canadian WW1 veteran’s letter to family

The letter was found in a box in the Prairie Pickers Café in Steinbach, Man

At first Amanda Kehler didn’t notice the envelope with a faded address lying among old newspapers and certificates.

When she found the $1 box on the weekend, she decided to buy it, unaware it would soon send her on a search for a First World War veteran’s family.

Kehler owns Prairie Pickers Café in Steinbach, Man., with her husband. The couple is often at flea markets, garage sales and estate sales looking for unique antiques for the store.

When she got around to opening the aged envelope, she immediately knew it was something special.

“I was reading the letter and as soon as it referenced Vimy Ridge, I instantly got chills,” Kehler said on Thursday.

“Obviously it’s such a huge part of our Canadian history. I just knew it was something really special that I needed to get back in the hands of — hopefully — a family member.”

READ MORE: 97-year-old B.C. veteran proudly displays 100-year-old Union Jack

The letter, dated May 1917, was sent from a Canadian veteran named Earl Sorel who was in a hospital in Birkenhead, England. The missive was addressed to a woman in Selkirk, a small city just northeast of Winnipeg.

In the letter, Sorel shared with the woman that her brother died during the historic Battle of Vimy Ridge, which had taken place the month before.

But, before he died, the brother saved Sorel’s life.

“The barrage was like a thunderstorm and we were trotting at a good pace. We had gone about 1,200 yards and then ‘Bang!’ I felt a sharp burn in my back and left arm,” the letter said. “The next thing I remember was (Gordon) pulling me in a shell hole and he told me to stay there.”

It went on to say: “He died a hero, along with many others that day.”

Stephen Davies, project director of the Canadian Letters and Images Project, learned about the letter and quickly started researching the two soldiers.

He found Sorel’s service file through Library and Archives Canada and learned the soldier was also originally from Selkirk and was only 20 years old when the letter was sent.

Davies said the brother killed in the battle was most likely Gordon Rochford from Selkirk. The 1916 census said he had a sister named Pauline Rochford, the same name as on the letter’s address.

Rochford’s service file shows he was only 22 years old, so there’s a good chance the two men grew up together in Selkirk.

Rochford was unmarried when he went overseas to fight and in the file the young man writes: “In the event of my death I give the whole of my property and effects to my mother.”

He was killed in action on April 9, 1917.

Davies is working to maintain an online archive of letters and images of Canadian soldiers and said he hopes to get a scanned copy of Sorel’s letter. He said such correspondence is extremely important in understanding war.

“What letters do is reduce the war down to the human level, remind us that the soldiers are just like us,” he said in an interview from Nanaimo, B.C.

READ MORE: In war and peace, two Okanagan women share a one hundred years of history

Word of the letter has spread and Kehler has received offers from people who want to buy it. She hopes to return it to members of either soldier’s family — if she can find them. If not, she will donate it to a war museum.

Either way, Kehler said, it is truly a Prairie “pickers” dream find.

“As pickers you always have this handful of items that always stay with you. This is our ‘stay-with-us’ item,” she said.

“These people fought in the wars, and we are all grateful for that, but when you read a personal letter like that it brings it really close to home.”

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Calling all spunky lawn bowlers: Charity event expanding in Kelowna

On the Lawn returns for another year, and it’s growing

Canadian ski legend gets entire memorial bridge at Big White

Kelowna - The ski bridge was named Jimmie Spencer Memorial Bridge in his honour

On thin ice: Warmer temperatures mean dangerous lake conditions in Kelowna

The Kelowna Fire Department is warning others to stay off the lakes

Kelowna marijuana production expansion proposed near Okanagan Rail Trail

A rezoning application from The Flowr Group will be presented to council today

Kelowna Muslim students hold vigil to support New Zealand victims

A vigil will be held Monday night at UBC Okanagan

VIDEO: RCMP ask kids to help name soon-to-be police dogs

13 German shepherd puppies will be born this year

B.C. nordic skier travels to Russia for biathlon

Tayla Koerber skied for Team Canada at the international event

Nearly 40% of British Columbians not taking their medications correctly: poll

Introduction of legal cannabis could cause more issues for drug interactions

Mining company fined $70,000 after two workers killed in B.C. truck crash

Broda Construction pleaded guilty to failing to provide safe workplace at Cranbrook rock quarry

B.C. argues it cannot stop Trans Mountain, but it can protect environment

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says only Ottawa has the authority to decide what goes in trans-boundary pipelines

B.C. poverty plan combines existing spending, housing programs

Target is to lift 140,000 people out of poverty from 2016 level

Temperature records dating back to 1947 broken in B.C.

The Squamish airport recorded the hottest temperature in the province (and Canada) on Sunday: 21.3 C

Avalanche warning issued for all B.C. mountains

Warm weather to increase avalanche risk: Avalanche Canada

Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick retires in wake of SNC-Lavalin case

Jody Wilson-Raybould accused Wernick of pressuring her to head off criminal charges for the firm

Most Read