June 5, 1944. The day before D-day. Lance Sergeant Edwin Worden, a Canadian soldier with the Regina Rifles, writes a heartbreaking letter to his wife Lily in England–he is onboard a military ship crossing the English Channel on route to the coast of Nazi-occupied France. In a few hours, he and 150,000 Allied soldiers, sailers and airmen will overcome incredible odds–inclement weather, dangerous waters, and a coast heavily fortified by masses of barbed wire, land mines, enemy fire and cement bunkers–to bring about the “beginning of the end” of the Second World War.
On this fateful day, L/Sgt Worden writes this letter:
Monday, June 5, 1944
To my darling wife:
How are you to-night? fine I hope. Lee darling, I find it very hard to write this to you. I only wish I could have seen you but I can say this. I am fine and feel 100 per cent for I know I have someone waiting for me, who is very brave and knows how to smile.
We are going in to-morrow morning. as I write this we are out on the water, so the big day has come. I often had wondered how I would feel, but I don’t feel any difference…thanks to you…I know I can truthful say if it was not for you I would feel different, but it is the love and trust I have for you and that will help me over many a rough spot. I am glad in a way that it has come for it means you and I can be together sooner something I have always prayed for and I know you have to. So promise darling you will not worry for I’ll be all right and home befor you know it. Just you and Mum look after each other and time will pass swiftly.
Now befor I close I want to say again that I love you very much and you mean the world to me.
So now darling I’ll say good-night and God bless you till we meet again soon.
p.s. Tell Mum that I am thinking of her too, and not to worry but look after you. I am enclosing a message they gave us. good-night I’ll write as soon as I get a chance.”
I discovered L/Sgt Worden’s letter on the Canadian War Museum website. I don’t know who he is and I don’t know what he looks like — but I have this bit of intimate and heart wrenching correspondence, and I want to know more. Canadians are not overtly patriotic, but we do learn early about our soldiers and their bravery on foreign lands. It’s the very least we can do to remember: Lest we forget.
So I wonder, who was this man? Where was he from? Why did he join the army? Did he survive D-Day? Was he reunited with Lily?
I will start with the first piece of the puzzle–the letter home.
Soldiers were given the opportunity to write one letter home before D-Day. They had spent years training for the “big day”, and they knew they might not make it home. They could only write one letter. To whom should they write it to? Wife? Child? Mother? Friend? And what to say in what could be their last letter home? What would you say?
Veteran Roy Armstrong, who served as a dispatch rider in the same regiment as L/Sgt Worden, describes the D-Day letter as “a hell of a letter to have to write” in this moving Memory Project video:
During the First and Second World Wars, soldiers’ letters were the primary form of communication with loved ones. Soldiers adhered to strict guidelines, and their letters could be censored if they provided any detail of military operations.
WW2 war posters (shown here from the National Archives in Britain) emphasized the need for servicemen and civilians to be vigilant:
While they lacked detail, soldiers’ letters are like windows into the soul. According to Veteran’s Affairs Canada:
“While some told their families of the horrors they were enduring, others chose to remain upbeat and encouraging for the sake of their loved ones. The letters collected here record some of the most important moments in their author’s lives, and demonstrate the impact of war on individuals and their families.”
L/Sgt Worden’s was a reassuring love letter to a worried wife: “I’ll be all right and home befor you know it.” If he actually believed he would make it home, it is impossible to say.
Others talked more soberly about their fate.
There is this heartbreaking letter by American Air Force Navigator 2nd Lt Jack Lundberg (written May 19, 1944):
“Dear Mom, Pop and family,
Now that I am actually here I see that the chances of my returning to all of you are quite slim, therefore I want to write this letter now while I am yet able.
I want you to know how much I love each of you. You mean everything to me and it is the realisation of your love that gives me the courage to continue. Mom and Pop – we have caused you innumerable hardships and sacrifices – sacrifices which you both made readily and gladly that we might get more from life.”
Sadly, as he predicted, Lt Lundberg died in the weeks following D-Day–age 25.
But what was L/Sgt Worden’s fate?
I will try to piece together this soldier’s story–the story of one, and 150,00o more D-Day fighters.
Next post: L/Sgt Worden joins the army.
More letters home:
The Canadian Letters project (http://www.canadianletters.ca)
War letters (from US soldiers) (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/warletters/)