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L.A. Beat

First World War letters give the Galt a peek at the past

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Lethbridge - The military experiences of local World War One artilleryman Sergeant John Beattie Murray of the 20th Overseas Battery will unfold for the first time for his descendants and friends of the family at the Galt Museum & Archives during a special public presentation on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1 p.m., when Murray's grandson Jim Keiver and retired Warrant Officer Glenn Miller will donate the late soldier's letters to the Galt Archives.

During his tour of duty in England and France from 1915-19, Sgt. Murray wrote 90 letters to his mother and family members, which were then stored in a shoebox until they fell into the hands of his grandson, Jim Keiver of Lethbridge.  Glenn Miller was introduced to the collection at Keiver's home, after learning about them at an annual Military Antique road show he organizes at the General Stewart Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Miller digitized and transcribed each handwritten letter. "Not only do the letters give insight into how one man experienced the first World War, they also give an eyewitness account of some of the significant activities the Lethbridge Battery underwent during the war," mused Miller.

The handwriting of some of the letters was particularly difficult to decipher.
“You could tell by the state of his penmanship when Sergeant Murray had frayed nerves or when he was shell-shocked.  He had also been gassed a few times,” Miller recalled. The letters were written on whatever paper Murray could find, mostly YMCA letterhead available free to soldiers at the canteen, and one was written on 20th Battery letterhead.”

According to Miller, “Murray travelled overseas on the same boat as General Stewart, whose diaries are also in the Archives, with approximately 3000 others.  He was a CPR man before and after the war … during the war his sister paid his dues in his absence.”

“Having read these letters brought experiences to light that would otherwise been lost to time," Miller said of researching the stories.  As he learned to decipher the handwriting he realized Murray's experiences had many connections with local citizens of the time.
 "These clues and insights have helped me to conduct research that adds to the century of military history and heritage of the Artillery in Lethbridge. I strongly recommend people contact the Galt Museum before throwing something out.  It may not seem important, but could prove to be a vital link in making connections in local history.”
— Submitted To L.A. Beat
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