James (Jim) C. Aitchison

 

About James (Jim) C. Aitchison
(also spelled Aitcheson)

  • Born May 28, 1876, Innerleithen, Scotland
  • Married to Elizabeth M. Aitchison
  • Emigrated to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with his wife and children, in 1912
  • Jim and Elizabeth had nine children; the youngest two children died of whooping cough while he was serving overseas.
  • Carpenter by trade
  • Enlisted in the armed services in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on June 23, 1915
  • Served as a Private in the Canadian Infantry (Quebec Regiment)
  • Wounds suffered during active service in France in September or October of 1916
  • Wrote to wife from hospital in Roy Herbert Hospital in Woolwich on October 3, 1916
  • Died of wounds on October 15, 1916
  • Buried in Innerleithen Cemetery, Peeblesshire, Scotland (United Kingdom), the town where he was born
  • The loss of her husband and two small children during the war devastated Elizabeth.    Elizabeth and her older children bore a heavy burden to support the large family in the years immediately following Jim’s death.  (Information from a letter to Saskatchewan Archives, June 8, 1998, from M.S. MacLean, granddaughter of Jim and Elizabeth Aitchison.)

Context for the James (Jim) C. Aitchison fonds

From Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (PAS), S-A912, James Aitchison fonds.  Jim’s letters and other documents related to his active service were donated to PAS in 1998 by his granddaughter.

 


 

 

Letters from Jim Aitchison to his wife, Elizabeth

No 441507
Pte J Aitchison
A Coy, 53rd Battalion
C.E. F.

Wed May 10th [1916]
Stationed at Bramshott Camp

My dear wife

I received yours and Ray’s letters today, and am very sorry to see that baby is not thriving, poor little fellow. I hope by this time that he is better. I am also sorry to see that you are taking our separation so badly, I think that probably has something to do with baby’s illness. Of course I don’t want to be forgotten, but I really wish you could take it a bit better, try dear and look on the bright side, and look forward to the time when we will meet again. God knows I miss you too, but I always try to keep smiling. Yours of course is the hardest part, as the life we lead in the army is a cheery one. Try dear for the children’s sake and mine, to buck up a little. I am also sorry to see about my little Nettie, and hope she is better again. I consider you did the best thing in getting Pringle to quit at the S.P. when it was hurting her health and if you can manage to give her a season at the Business College, it will be a fine thing, she deserves it, as she has been a good daughter to us, but you will have a struggle this summer. I am wearying to see Jim’s photo, in his uniform, he will make a good soldier. Glad that Elsie is getting on at school and will be able to take her entrance this summer, I will have to save up the $5 that I promised, I must be getting behind a bit, I still owe Jim $1, and I have not sent the children’s dollar, for a while, but I don’t know how they pay us here, as all I have got to date is ℒ4, and I had $14-10 coming when I left Canada. We have all got pay books here, but it is an awkward business counting it up, as our pay is $1-10 a day and of course we are paid sterling. I borrowed 3s when I went to Scotland, and I paid Bella ℒ1 of our old a/c. and I still have about $5/ left so, didn’t spend so much on my trip. I promised to send ℒ1 occasionally to Innerleithen. You have no idea how kind everyone was there. I saw Old Mrs. Johnstone going to the station one night, and went down with her, I was to go to Walkerburn and see her besides, but did not manage it. Now dear don’t worry about me as I am perfectly safe yet, and after all there are other ways of dying besides being killed in battle anyway we have a just cause, and it is worth any …

Please note that there are page(s) missing from this letter.  It ends abruptly, without a closing or signature.

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No 441507
Pte J Aitchison
A Coy, 53rd Battalion C.E. F.
Bramshott Camp
Sat May 27th 1916

My dear wife

Just a few lines to let you know that I am still in the land of the living and feeling in the best of health. I am wearying to hear how, Ella Norma & Nettie, are keeping I hope they don’t take anything else along with the whooping cough, and that it does not drag out long. Your last letter telling me of Baby’s death, has made me a bit homesick, and if I could get out of the army and across to you I think I would go. However I suppose I am in it now till the end, and we will have to keep up our hearts, and hope the end will not be long. I sent your letter on to Tina, telling her in turn to send it to Innerleithen as you give the news much better than I could and there was nothing in it but anyone might read. I had a letter from Tina saying she had sent on 3 little remmits she had knitted for the children. She is knitting a pair of socks for me also. How are you bearing up dear under your trial, you think it is bad for me, but I know it is you who will suffer most, as you are always so fond of a young baby. He was a dear little fellow, but maybe he hasn’t missed much, as life isn’t all roses by any means. We got back here from the ranges on Tuesday, I did fairly well at the shooting, and passed as a first class shot with 20 points to spare, I missed being a marksman however by 15 points, still I am a long way above the average, so I am well enough pleased. I have been doing a bit of carpenter work these last three days, and hope it will last a while as it is a nice change, and of course we don’t have to go very hard. I think you had all the children insured but suppose you won’t get much as he was so young. How are you getting on during the Quarantine [there was a polio epidemic that resulted in quarantine in 1916, impacting both Canada and the United States], does Pringle and Ray sleep out, or how do you manage. I see Conscription comes into force here in June, I believe if they had it at the first the war would have been over by now. I have never had a medical exam yet, but anyway I don’t think they will turn me down now. I will close now as there is really nothing here to write about. Hoping the children are some better and that the rest of you are well

I remain yours forever

Jim

How about your own trouble you haven’t mentioned it lately.

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No 441507, 4th Company 14th Canadian Battalion
3rd Brigade, 1 Can. Division
Somewhere in France

June 17th 1916

My dear Wife

Just a few lines to let you know, that I am still in the land of the living, and thinking of you, I am always thinking of you, I haven’t had a letter since leaving England, the one telling me of dear Nettie’s death, isn’t it hard to lose her she was such a darling. Well dear, I am at the front now, and I hope for your and the children’s sake, I will come safely through it, let us hope that the war will soon be over, and that we will be reunited. This is a Montreal Regt, that I am in now, and they are or have been mostly French Canadians, but of course they are getting mixed up now, with drafts. They are fine fellows, however, and lots of them have been through quite a lot. We are under shell fire all the time, but it is strange how soon one gets used to it. We don’t get much news here but I hear that Russia is doing very well, so that it may not be very long before Fritz has to give in let us hope so. I am in the best of health, and hope that you and the children are well. I will close now and will write a longer letter when I get back to the rest camp.

Love to all

Your loving husband

Jim

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No 441507
Pte J. Aitchison
No 4 Coy
14th Can. Battalion
3rd Brigade
1st Can Division
The Front
France

My dear wife

I got back to the rest camp last night, none the worse of my first experience at the Front. It is wonderful how cool a fellow feels up there, I have been more scared many a time when out on a salmon exploit. All the same I am glad to be back, where we don’t hear the guns as much, and where we don’t see any shells explode. I didn’t sleep well last night, thinking of you all, I had a look at the picture, and I remembered how bright Nettie was when it was taken and that I gave her a shake because she wouldn’t sit still. I hope she didn’t remember it. I can’t keep my eyes dry when I think of her. I haven’t had a letter since coming to France, but I don’t think any of the 53rd have, I hope there is no more bad news when I do get one. Now, dear, try and worry as little as possible about me, and try and keep up for the children’s sake, I know it is hard to do, but remember you are all they have to look to. I wish I could take you in my arms and comfort you in this terrible affliction. I will not be greatly surprised if I am sent back to the base, as some of the non-coms are talking about me being deaf, and saying I should not be here. I know you would be glad if I am sent there but don’t get too elated about it, as that is all I have to go by. Anyway I might pull through alright, as there are some in this Regt, who have been in and out the trenches for 16 months and have never had a scratch, on the other hand of course, some got laid out the first day, let us hope for the best, it can’t last such a long time now, as Austria seems to be about all in. I hear that the 65th are either in England or going there soon to reinforce the 53rd, if so Pringle will lose her boy. As this is all the paper I have I will close now and will write again, before our next turn at the front.

Your ever loving husband

Jim

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No 441507
July 1st 1916
Pte J Aitchison. No 4 Coy. 14th Can. Batt
3rd Brigade. 1st Can. Division
The Front. France

My dear wife

We have arrived back at the rest camp, after another spell of the trenches, so that I am alright for a few days again. There were quite a few old 53rd men killed and wounded this time, but our company was very fortunate as we had very few casualties. I have never had a letter from anywhere since coming to France, and am wearying very much on one, especially from you. I thought I would not have much time to think, when on active service, but there are hours and hours in the trenches, when we have nothing to do, but lie in our dug-outs, and my thoughts are of home all the time. I hope you are bearing up well, under our bereavements, and that the first awful sting is gone. I can hardly believe yet, that they are gone from us forever naturally of course I grieve most for Nettie, as she was older, but I am very sorry also for the loss of our wee son. You will be wondering how I like it at the front, well I think, the less said about it the better, as I expected, it is no picnic, and the sooner it is over, the better I will be pleased, it is sad coming back to the rest camp and hearing about fellows we know being killed. However we will have to go through with it now, and if we are suffering so are our enemies. I find my deafness a great handicap at the front, as they speak low there, and I can’t hear the orders at all sometimes, especially after a sharp bombardment, I am almost totally deaf for a long time. I don’t know what Batt. J Green is in now, but he will have been in the trenches once or twice by this time. The Regt that Bill is in was to arrive here this morning from the front line, so I will possibly see him tonight. How are you all keeping? I hope the little ones have got over their trouble, and things are going better with you now. I expect to get quite a lot of letters from you soon, as I suppose they are being held up at the Base until they can trace me. Tell the children that I am unable to send their dollar now, as we only get one franc (20 cents) a day here, the rest is held back. We get tobacco and matches served out though, also cigarettes, and as we can only spend money while at camp it is enough. I wrote to mother last time I was back, and will write to Tina & Bella this time, I will close now, hoping this war will soon be over, and that I will soon be back in Saskatoon beside you. I remain

Your ever loving husband

Jim

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No 441507
Pte J Aitchison
No 4 Coy. 14th Can Batt
3rd Brigade 1st Can Civ
The Front
France

Aug 9th 1916

My dear wife

I received your letter dated July 20th also the parcel containing towel, socks & tobacco. I have got two parcels from you to date. Well, dear, about sending parcels, I have as many socks as I require for the present, and as we have to carry everything about with us, don’t send any more meantime, also about tobacco, although we don’t get McDonalds, we get as much as we can use of other kinds, so there is no use of you spending your money sending that, but, a little cake, if you could make it in a little tin, and send it tin and all, would be very acceptable, as of course we don’t get anything of that kind. I am sorry to see that they have reduced your P.V. so much, I thought they had deducted for the two children in the spring, and it seems to me that they have stopped the allowance for them twice over. It doesn’t seem fair to me, as I have to keep up my end of the bargain they might keep theirs. Glad to see that W. McBain, is only a prisoner, although that is bad enough, still they can only keep him until the end of the war, and he is two years ahead of these poor fellows who were captured at the retreat from Mons. Yes, this is rather a hard life, long marches in Heavy Marching Order, sleeping in damp dugouts, etc, it is a wonder there is not a lot sickness, but there isn’t, it is wonderful what men can stand, except for my deafness, I am in the best of health. I am getting used to hearing shells explode now, but still I don’t like it, they are nasty things when they drop near, still Fritz has to stand more of that than we have, and I don’t suppose he likes it either. Pringle was praising Lizzie & Jim for the way they have worked in the gardens, they are good workers, and I hope they have good results. I am pleased to see that you are taking an interest in things again, I was afraid it would crush you entirely, as it must have been an awful blow. I don’t know that I have much more to say, I hope the war won’t last long and that I will be beside you before long.

Your ever loving husband

Jim

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Somewhere in France

Sept 13th 1916

My dear wife

I received your letter dated Aug 21st with the shot of Nettie enclosed. Yes it will seem strange, to have no one but Norma about the house, now that the rest are back at school, and you will feel lonely, but time is a great healer and you must not let your health down, for the sake of the rest. I longed very much to be beside you in our time of trouble, but that was not to be, and we have to make the best of it. You always tell me to let you know what to send, well, there is a powder called French Powder, some of the boys get, and if you can get it in Canada, you send lots of it, as at present I am unable to sleep for vermin, it is fierce. My health keeps good, and though we have had some heavy marches, I always manage to keep going with the rest. I haven’t got a parcel from the U.S.A. yet, but have had two from Innerleithen, and one from Newcastle, besides those you sent, so I have nothing to complain about. I am glad to see that you are getting the place painted, and wish I had been at home to help you. How is the harvest out west this year, I heard that farmers were paying $4 a day, if that is true, the soldiers on harvest leave will be making a good stake. You ought to see them cutting grain here, with a scythe, and thrashing with a flail, I had no idea they were so far behind in France, I never saw the flail used before, but have heard of it. I will close now hoping you are all keeping well

Your loving husband

Jim

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Somewhere in France
Sept 21st 1916

My dear wife

Just a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and well, and am receiving my mail pretty regular now. You have no idea how nice it is to get a letter or parcel from home. The next parcel you send you might send some chewing tobacco instead of smoking, as we get all the smoking we can use. I know you don’t like me chewing, but we are not allowed to smoke at night in the trenches, and it is a weary time from darkness till daylight. I haven’t seen J Green, but hear he is alright so far, I haven’t heard anything about W. Souter, but his regt is within 2 miles of us now, I may see them soon. Last year at this time I was home on harvest leave, we had a great time then, didn’t we. Let us hope it won’t be long before we are home for good. I see the German press is beginning to squeal about us sending them so many shells, they say it is butchery, I consider that a good sign, it certainly is fierce, the amount of shells we send over, and though it is bad enough in our lines, it must be terrible in theirs. It is beginning to get a little cold at night. I hope the darned thing is over before the winter sets in, as it must be miserable then, however, some of the boys have been here two winters, so I must not grumble. Tell Mrs. Forrester I was asking for them. I see by the Peebleshire Standard [that] Walter Redpath is killed. I think that is the last of Jack’s family by his first wife. He was a soldier when they left for Canada, and has been in France from the start. I will close now with love to you and the children. Your ever loving husband

Jim

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Roy Herbert Hospital
Woolwich [England]
Oct 3rd 1916

My dear wife,

I had to stop the last letter rather suddenly, so I am writing again. I was under the xrays yesterday, and nurse tells me that I have a large piece of metal in my leg. I am inclined to think it may be a piece of high explosive shell that got me, not that it matters, only if so it will be a more ragged wound. Fancy I walked miles over very rough ground with it. I did not become a stretcher case until I reached Boulogne, I was hobbling about with a stick, when one of the doctors there said, “Put that man on a stretcher.” Well, dear, I have been lucky, I am not injured permanently, and if you saw some of the poor fellows, you would thank God, that I have got off so lightly. Oh how pleasant it is to lie in a clean bed, after the beds I have lain on these last 4 months, I think I would soon have been knocked up, I could not sleep at night for lice, I am sure there thousands on me, I used to lie and pick them off the whole night. They kept me off my sleep worse than the shells. Well I am alright now for some time to come, and it is possible owing to my deafness they may not send me to the front again. Well dear I think we have got the Germans beat now, there does not seem to be any fight left in their infantry. I did not get over to the German trench, but some who did tell me, that they either bolted, or held up their hands. It was a wonderful sight to see our boys going through that hell in extended order, and makes me more than ever proud of our race. I am pleased to see by Pringle’s letter that the Garden is such a success, and that you have so many potatoes. I expect my mail will follow me here, but I have had none so far. I have written to Bella, and will likely get a letter from here in a day or two. I will close now.

With love from your ever loving husband

Jim

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Burial report for James C. Aitchison,
with cover letter addressed to Mrs. Elizabeth Matheson
from the Department of Militia and Defense, 27 March 1917.
PAS, S-A912, James C. Aitchison records
(click on image of documents to see enlarged copy)