Edith Leckie's Diary

Photograph of R.G.E Leckie leading the Canadian 16th Battalion in cheering the automobile of King George V and Queen Mary with handwritten key

Photograph of R.G.E Leckie leading the Canadian 16th Battalion in cheering the automobile of King George V and Queen Mary, November 1914.

Edith Lydia Leckie (1879-1976) took an instant interest in the war. Her two brothers immediately enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and her brother-in-law served in the Royal Navy. She wrote regularly in her journal of war news and her volunteer activities in Vancouver, before she successfully applied to travel to England to assist in the war effort. 

Edith's diary encompasses an almost full-year from 28 September 1914 to 1 September 1915. It  consists of daily entries, which are engaging and interesting. Edith arrived in England in March 1915 and stayed overseas for the entirety of the war.  She would later work in canteens for the French Red Cross in France, before returning to Canada in June 1920. Unfortunately, Edith's diaries from the rest of the war are not present in our collection and accordingly, we cannot know the extent of her later activities. 

The entirety of Edith's diary can be viewed below with a selection of excerpts.

15 October 1914  – "Lovely warm fine day – just like summer. The Canadians have arrived in Plymouth. Bertie + Jack are with that lot + that Dorothy was able to see them. It was rumoured that Canadians troops had landed […] if my Gran could have seen her grandsons returning to her old hometown with Steele and a fine regiment."

26 October 1914 - "… Mr [Mack] came in to say “good bye” as he was off to Victoria + then England. Almost every man we know is going now. Felt quite weepy all day."

9 November 1914 – "Busy day. Went down with the Ritchies to see Gerald Boileau off with two men who are off to join a foreign service battalion in Montreal. … but they sang and tried to be gay. It was rather pathetic."

23 November 1914 – "Rather encouraging news from the front. A German submarine has been sank and a destroyer (the latter in collision with a Danish steamer) + the Russians are [yielding] the Germans back in the second week on Warsaw.

Took Miss Hatton down to the “Dominion” I saw a lot of pictures of Canadian troops – quite a number of the Highlanders – those taken at Brickton Park – among them Bertie appeared quite often."

30 November 1914 – "St Andrews Day. Had letters from Bertie and Jack + more interesting photos … the Seaforth Highlanders which were the … the brigade photograph photographed at the Kings review. One on of them Bertie is standing beside the Queen + just behind the King + in another he is leading the regiment in the cheering as their majesties are just about to leave in their motor."

4 December 1914 – "Got a wire from Ottawa saying “your application for transportation approved. Have written.” signed Sen Macdonald. Quite exciting. Am awaiting the letter with much interest. Sat by the fire in the eve tried to think things out. Feel […] puzzled at what I ought to do."

6 December 1914 – "Got a letter from the government giving a pass to Ottawa! Have very mixed feelings about going but suppose it is too good a chance to miss."

12 December 1914 – "Got a wire from Ottawa saying my passage had been approved for ... Feb 15th."

5 January 1915 – "The French seem to be advancing a bit in Alsace + the Russians are still checking the German advance in Warsaw + advancing themselves in Salicia."

6 January 1915 – "First thing I saw in the Morning paper was that Col Samuel Hughes and Bertie had been at the Front – the former wounded in the head by a shell and the latter broken his collar bone in a motor accident. Mrs Rae Green rang up and asked if she could come in pm + which she came early … we knitted of course."

3 February 1915 – "Took the Imperial line eastbound at 6-45 P.M M + Digg came on to see me off. Felt very weepy."

7 February 1915 – "Went to see Major Clark who was extremely kind, and gave me all my transportation to Liverpool. He advised me to the Minister of Militia (Sen Hughes). … I thanked him for my transportation + asked him about the allowance. He was very nice since I had two brothers fighting."

4 March 1915 -[aboard the Sicilian] “the captain seemed very worried at dinner and most feel tense anxious. All the life boats are ready to be used. There are three boats slipping quietly into Port with us among them the “Highland Heather” which is long overdue. We dressed in combination knickers + a sweater when we went to bed and had our life vests hand in case of accidents."

5 March 1915 – "We passed the Isle of Wight in the afr. Saw a lot of destroyers, torpedoe boats, mine sweepers and cruisers in distance. It gave me a very welcome sense of protection and an idea of the myriad of the British Navy and how well England is guarded.

The island we stopped to take on one per – a torpedo boat came nosing around to see what was happening. The per brought papers which Mrs Moss read aloud after dinner. The casualty list had O.P Bell-Irving Can. Engineers among the killed. It must be Peter or one of the two younger boys. Mrs Moss was disheartened to see the name of young Boggs of Victoria also killed so we both felt depressed."

6 March 1915 – "We got into Tilbury and our voyage was over, for which I for one was devoutly thankful, and so was the Captain for sure."

9 March 1915 – "a letter from Bertie. He had spent a night in the trench (the 26th last + jack the following night). He + Reggie Tupper had been sniped at as they came out, the bullet passing over their heads. He said he could hear the Germans talking, whistling and hammering in staples in their lines just across from theirs."

11 March 1915 – "went to the High Commissioners where I r’cd a document from Sen Hughes which instead of giving me an allowance recommended me to Col. Ward for some sort of a position! It was rather startling.

Went to see Col. Ward about S.H’s letter, he was in, but I ran into Capt [Bradding] late of 104th New Minster who is in charge of the Separation Allowance department. He wanted to give me a job in his office (30/h week) but I don’t know whether I want to give up the nursing if I can get it. He took me to see Miss Macdonald who is the head of the nursing service. … tried to decide what to do, it is rather difficult."

15 March 1915 – "Enquired at the “Blue Cross” where he said he had asked for a job but they could not see me as they had so many applicants. Then went to the High Commissioners. I had a long talk with Mr Allen who is in charge of the dept."

19 March 1915 – "went to Capt Dowling’s office. He had a letter from Bertie giving his permission for me to work in the office. … Lady Carrington Oxford Sq, though it was Oxford Circus so was very late getting there. She advised me not to take up nursing + thought they need keepers in the restaurants in France. The people she knows have to pay 10/ for their board which is too much for me.

Letter from Bertie. He + Jack are under shell fire all the time + bullets at night. Jack lives in a cellar of a house."

20 March 1915 – "Capt Dowling + as he asked me again to go in his office they are short handed … the government has asked all women to work so I feel I must do something."

22 March 1915 – "My first day in an office! I didn’t mind it a bit."

23 March 1915 – "Spent the day sending off cheques to soldiers wives – a noble deed."

29 March 1915“the office has been moved to Westminster House, Grosvenor Road, all the Can. Officers are together on one floor. We are in a big room with long tables + the assigned pay next us. Most of the other people in our room are men in uniform. It was sometime before go to work.”

1 April 1915“Did not feel up to going to the office. Read the paper by the fire after breakfast + later went up to Harley st to see […] about nursing.

While I was getting the letter I discovered the lady next me at the counter was Mrs Goodchild late of Vancouver! She asked me to go to tea with her next day. … Did some more shopping after lunch at an A.B.C sent a chicken for Dorothy’s Baby + some chocolate eggs for herself + sent off the parcel when I got home – also an egg filled with cigarettes for Bertie.”

5 April 1915“Easter Monday. A bank holiday so only put in half a day at the office. Went up to the Orchards in the afts + stayed to supper. … letter from Bertie as well. They are at Neuve Chapelle though not in the thick of the fighting. No special war news. The Germans continue to sink a merchant ship or two every day + the Russians continue to advance in Austria.”

6 April 1915“Office. Lunched in Victoria St + bought one or two things at the stores after including a cake for tea. Lost my muff coming home from 21 in the eve. Feel very sorry about it.”

9 April 1915“Office. Stayed over at  No.21 + knitted after dinner. War news continues cheerful. Russia advancing in the Carpathians + the French in France. The British repulsed a night attack with heavy loss to the Enemy.”

13 April 1915“Office. Cold in the evening. Wrote Jack. Letter from Florence. The Russians continue their success in the Carpathians + the French in the Neuve-Neville district. Miss Keating who has just returned from France sits at one table + has interesting tales to tell. She admires the French soldiers very much. “

20 April 1915“Back to the office again!”

21 April 1915“Office. Read + wrote in the eve.”

24 April 1915“Office. Papers tell of a big battle + Mr Egg at the Office told me the 10th Batt had suffered heavily. Made some enquiries of Capt. H[…] before leaving in the aft but he couldn’t remember any names.”

25 April 1915“Felt very smug. The Canadians have been in the thick of the fighting + made a splendid charge. Saved the day after French had been driven back by poisonous gas fumes the Germans are using … the Canadians had to retire at first when the French did, but they went back + got them again. Very heavy casualties. “

26 April 1915 – "Had a terrible morning at the office. Capt. Dowling came to me with news of casualties of our regiment – every few minutes it seemed. I saw Gavin Davis, Reggie Tupper + Goodall Avery on the list of wounded. … I cried. Later he told me that Rae had been killed but he felt it was not true. However I came home then because I could not stand any more. Went back later as I wanted to hear if there was any more news. Saw Sergt Major Kelly + he said Capt Rae was not mentioned + felt very glad." […] The papers are full of the brave fight of the Canadians who saved the allies line! Miss Junoski came in + talked to me for a while in the eve. Feel pretty exhausted after such an awful day.

27 April 1915 – “Capt Dowding told me Capt Goodall was in hospital here so I went up to see him after lunch bought a huge lot of flowers – tulips, roses, daffs + narcissi. Was first shown into a room where I found two unknown officers … Then I saw Capt Goodall (he has a hole the size of an egg one arm) + Mr Gillial wounded in the foot. It was good to see them + I stayed a long time listening to their stories of the fight. Capt Goodhall had not even seen a German. He was wounded + fell + got up + went on with another company then hit again (the bullet glanced off but kicked him down) when he got up he was alone so could not go on + lay then till a stretcher bearer came. He was there when Capt Rae came back. The the latter called the roll in the trenches only 300 answered!”

29 April 1915 – “Office. Wrote. Scudey is among the wounded + missing + I feel very badly about it.”

30 April 1915 – “Skipped lunch + went over to see two of the men in St Thomas’ hospital. Miss Durward came with me. The men were Segt Bennet of the Machine Gun Section (Reggie Tupper’s) + Pte Forester. They were both very cheerful … Sergt Bennet had had his arm blown off by a shell just as he was going over to get Reggie Tupper who had fallen. The men walked about ¾ of a mile back + through a brook before he was picked up! He said they all carried Mr Tupper.”

1 May 1915 – “Miss Daly + I had tea together + she came up with me to Miss Pollick’s Nursing Home where I saw Capt Goodall + Mr. Gilliat again. However Geoff Holmes rang me up at dinner + asked me to go to a play so I accepted as I wanted to see him + boys like to be jolly while they are in town. He called for me + we went to see Three Spoonfuls which was very funny + made me laugh in spite of the dreadful week.  We had supper at the […] after Geoff talks very well. He is a Sub-Lieut in the Royal Field Artillery + expects to go to the front before long.”

2 May 1915 – “Another very warm day. Went to Trinity Church in the A.M + then walked down to Wilton Rd with Miss Dally (she came to church with me) + bought some cigarettes + cakes. Geoff came to tea. We had it on the balcony (Miss Dally with us) + afterwards took him to the Tate Gallery. Wrote after supper.”

4 May 1915 – “Office. Lunched in [town] + went to see Private Thomas at the Westminister (Broad Sanctuary) Hospital. He is a very amazing man + told me very many tales even about shelling the trenches. He told me about Capt Merrit as he was in his company. Capt Fleming’s brother had asked me to inquire to Capt Merrit’s mother. Thomas said that the last time he saw Capt Merrit was before they got to the wood. He told them to open order + added “stick to it boys – give them hell!” Wrote in the eve.”

6 May 1915 – “Office. Went to see Segt. Bennet + Pte Forester at St. Thomas’ Miss Dally came with me. Sergt Bennet is to be operated on Monday. Pte Forester was up + about. Warm day. News of the sinking of the Lusitania by the Hun pirates – another of their diabolical deeds. There is a picture of the Can. Scottish in the Daily Express as they charged in the wood.”

7 May 1915 – “Office till 5. Then went up to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital + saw Pte Snail of the 10th Scots a nice man. He had shrapnel in his back but is getting on very well. “

10 May 1915 – “Office. Stopped at the stores at lunch time to get some things for Jack. Theard that they had found Scudey, also that Reggie Tupper had died, but cld not believe the latter. Felt very cut up about Scudey.”

11 May 1915 – “Office. Heard Scudey, Mr Lindsay + Victor McLean have not been killed but are prisoners which is good news though it is a terrible thing to be in the hands of Germans.  Read Everett was killed of wounds but could not verify it fortunately + in a letter from Jack re’cd at … he speaks of Everett going down to work in a Base Hospital so he must be O.K.”

18 May 1915 – “War news continues cheerful. Both the French + British have gained several miles in the last few days.”

21 May 1915 – “Office. A new “hand” – Mrs Black, late of Vancouver. Her husband is in the Seaforths. … she is very nice – sits at my table. A wounded man from the 16th came in.”

22 May 1915 – “Office. Mrs Black + I left at five + went up to No. 1 General Hospital to see […] Davis. He had a narrow shave of losing his arm but though it will be shorter now than the other he has the use of it still.”

23 May 1915 – “Glorious day. Quite hot. Miss Haddick + went to Down St. Church + for a walk in the park after. It was beautiful there. I when I got home the maid told me that Major Leckie + Mrs Annesley were in the drawing room. I was startled as I was afraid something had happened to Bertie + rushed up but their faces reassured me + it was awfully nice to see them again. Jack is just out from the trenches. There has been heavy fighting this week + we’ve lost several more officers, Maj Reid who has a broken arm, Mr Jamieson killed + some of others wounded “Peter” Whitley has been wounded we saw it in the paper. We all had lunch together at the club + Jack went off later but came to supper. Dorothy + I had time together.”

24 May 1915 – “We met Jack in Piccadilly about one + walked with him at the Criterion. Then we saw Dorothy off at King’s Cross + then Jack + I drove to Mrs. Arnoldi’s house in Kensington which has been turned into a hospital. Mrs Goodison, Her sister Mrs Hornby (a charming woman)+ Capt Goodall were there. We saw some Canadian officers first + then Jack + I went in to see Major Godson. He looked better than I expected but it was sad to see him all the same + listen to his laboured breathing. He can only speak in a faint whisper. He was shot through the throat + through the back.”

29 May 1915 – “Office. Letter from Mrs […] her brother Peter Johnstone in the 16th was killed in the wood at Langemarck. I’m so very sorry. Saw Billy Tennant’s name among the “killed” at the office + Reggie Tupper is still reported “severely ill will receive visitors” Capt Dowding think that means he’s going.”

3 June 1915 – “Office. The King’s Birthday but no celebration.”

4 June 1915 – “Bertie’s birthday. Office. My eyes got quite sore so I did not do any work in the eve. Miss Haddick + I sat out in the Gardens + then we came up to my room + she began teaching me the “fox trot” the latest dance. Later we made respirators in case the Germans dropped poison bombs. There was an air raid here on Monday night – four children, a man + a woman killed.”

10 June 1915 – “Office. Janet Tupper dined with me. She told me of her engagement to Mr Holland of the Gordon Highlanders after dinner we went out + sat in the gardens + had a good chat.”

16 June 1915 – “Office. Lunched at the “Corner House” with Mrs Black. Major Rae came in the office in the aft. He is home on leave with gastritis + at Miss Pollacks. He looks pretty fit though.”

21 June 1915 – “Office. … Letters from Margaret + Bertie + the latter sent me a e/16 broach – the badge they wear on their shoulders. He has a pipe band who wear the Leckie tartan now + they’ve been playing to the troops.”

24 June 1915 – “Office. Bertie has been made a companion of the Order of St. Michael + St. George I am delighted! One other Canadian has also been made a companion the head of the Army Medical Corps.”

29 June 1915 – “Office. Wrote Florence. Miss Heddick came up + practiced bandaging on me in the eve for her first-aid course. Went to the High Commissioners.”

30 June 1915 – “Bertie may get home on leave in a few days, I do hope so! He has been in the trenches + fighting for months steadily now.”

4 July 1915 -  “I spoke to two of the 16th as well in the ward. Both were suffering from gas poisoning which they got at Ypres two months ago. Their breathing is still laboured.”

9 July 1915 – “Office. Dorothy arrived about 7. Bertie drove up with her + we all went to the “Criterion” for dinner. Bertie had an engagement later so Dorothy + I went to the “Victoria Palace” movie hall + quite enjoyed it.

16 July 1915 – “Office. ‘Phoned Bertie. Decided to go down to the Review at Shorncliffe the next day.”

17 July 1915 – “Left by the 9-5 train from Charing Cross for [Hyne] where I was there at 11-27. Drove up to Rolly’s Cottage where she has rooms. She said the Review had taken place early … The 29th + 31st both marched past the gate later on, but did not recognize anyone I knew except Capt Rolston who stopped + came in after tea. Rolly + Mr H drove me down to the station + I got home about 8-30. Found a card from Scudi who is feeling pretty depressed with life as a prisoner so wrote him a letter.”

23 July 1915 – “Office. We had to be there at 8-30 under a new order but got off at five. … I hated saying good bye to Bertie again but it is so nice to think he is so well + seems so happy. There were hundreds of soldiers going off. Everyone seemed jolly. It didn’t seem a bit as if they were going back to a terrible war.”

4 August 1915 – “A year’s war! Result on sea we are supreme. There is not a German ship above water that is not sinking in a harbor at home or interned elsewhere. On land they still hold Belgium, a small pact of France and the battle rages furiously around Warsaw. I wonder what it will be a year hence. All over I sincerely hope + Germany completely crushed. She has hardly a shred of Colonial possession left now. There was a big National Service at St. Paul’s. I wanted to go but couldn’t get away however I circled around Whitehall + saw the King + Queen returning. He looked very grave. It must be a very anxious time for him as for us all. They say the Prince of Wales is developing wonderfully at the front, getting so brown + hardy. It’s a long time since there was a Prince Edward fighting in France. Went to an international service at Holy Trinity after dinner.”

6 August 1915 – “Office. Came home at lunch time + went to the dressmakers. Miss Janoski with tea. She + Miss Radulisker came well in the eve. The latter is going to Roumania via Austria. She wants to get home before Roumania comes into the war which seems likely. “