In writing my most recent book, Courage, Sacrifice and Betrayal - The Story of the Victoria Rifles in WWI the battalion's soldiers tell the story of the battalion through their own personal recollections and letters. I have been fortunate in being able to find some 86 personal recollections and letters from 20 different individuals ranging from privates to the Commanding Officer of the battalion. Ironically 42 of these letters have come from sources which should have been obvious to me but in reality came late in the research and writing process. One of these individuals was A. Y. Jackson, the Group of Seven painter who initially served as a private in the 60th Battalion until he was wounded in June 1916. It was only while I was polishing off my book proposal that I thought to seek out any letters that Jackson may have written about his experiences with the 60th Battalion. In conducting an initial web search I was fortunate to come across a piece written by Dr. Jonathon Scotland, an historian with the Dictionary of Canadian Biography entitled "A Painter's Pen: A. Y. Jackson's & the Great War, 1914-1964" . Dr. Scotland was kind enough to share with me his copies of A. Y. Jackson's letters allowing me to discover nine letters which were relevant to my story. Jackson's letters clearly depict a man who although critical of the military strives to do his duty in a wold, in sharp contrast to his former life as an artist. Another rather late find was the discovery of 25 letters written by the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Frederick de Long Gascoigne while in the trenches, to his younger brother Fred in Canada. Frederick's letters provide a unique perspective into the challenges, doubts and humanity of the top officer in the battalion both as he prepares his men for action and later as he struggles to prevent the breakup of the battalion.
One of the first casualties once the battalion was in Belgium was the Honourable Captain Alfred Thomas Shaughnessy son of Baron Shaughnessy, President of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Captain Shaughnessy was sadly killed by shrapnel on March 31, 1916. Captain Shaughnessy's wife Sarah Polk Bradford, a descendent of the eleventh President of the United States was in London expecting their third child. It was only late in the writing process that I decided to research his family and discovered a series of letters exchanged between Sarah and Alfred which clearly expressed the great love and admiration that each held for the other.
In summary I would say that sometimes it is the most obvious connections to the past that we miss so don't do what I did which is nearly miss the forest for the trees. Retrace your research efforts and look for the obvious, it is just in front of you. Happy hunting!