The Keemlé Family
Charles Edmund Keemlé (1894-1915), known to his family as 'Ned,' was a twenty-six year old American-born clerk living in Toronto, when he enlisted in the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 12 August 1914.
The Fisher Library holds a series of letters between Ned and his mother and sisters. These letters are unique in that the great majority of the collection are letters received by Ned at the front. Letters sent home were immediately treasured and as such are more likely to be preserved. Letters received by the soldiers were far more likely to be destroyed or lost during the course of the war. Letters sent by Ned's mother and sisters represent the impact of the war on those at home and demonstrate the worry and concern they have for their son and brother at the front.
This batch of letters are particularly heartbreaking as they aptly demonstrate the difficulty many families experienced in actually reaching their loved one serving overseas. Many of the letters frequently mention their hope that the letter will actually be received, while emphasizing that they, too, hope to receive a letter. In a letter dated 24 May 1915, Ned's mother Josephine writes, "I am so sorry to hear you do not get my letters. I write as usual every week. Alma writes. Louise, Louis and so on." A week later, his sister Alma would echo the same sentiment, "We are thinking of you constantly so do not think because our letters do not seem to reach you, that we have forgotten you."
The Keemlé family correspondence would be, sadly, short-lived and only spans a period of ten months beginning when Ned left Canada to the point that he was reported missing in action (and later confirmed as killed in action) in June 1915.
Ned went missing at Givenchy in the Pas-de-Calais region of Northern France during the Second Battle of Artois. His wartime record reveals that at the time that he went missing, he was in the midst of serving twenty-one days "No. 1 Field Punishment" for refusing an order - in which he would be tied to a fence or other fixed object for up to two hours per day. His record also reveals that he was given a quick battlefield burial and his grave was marked with a wood cross by Ducks Bill forest. By the time the war ended all evidence of his grave had disappeared, the Canadian War Graves Detachment, responsible for moving lone graves into the larger cemeteries for final internment, was unable to find his body. Ned is commemorated at the Vimy Memorial – one of 11,000 Canadians - most of whom have no known grave.
The first actual letter, the Keemlé family received from Ned while he was at the front was written on 2 April 1915 and sent on his old Toronto letterhead.
I could have written you at time before but as the field cards are very handy and quite a substitute I failed to do so. I shall send you the cards as often as I can.
The weather is fine now and it is really a “sunny France” after all. The mud is practically all dried now and the trenches are therefore in good condition. Of course you know we have been in the trenches this past 6 weeks. It won’t be long however before the “dug out” days will be over and a little mole hill will become one’s cover.
Tell Alma to send me some old chum smoking tobacco + [Murad] cigarettes. It is impossible to buy anything decent to smoke where we are. Tell her to do so immediately.
I hope Louis is settled by this time. Tell B I received her letter but find it pretty hard to do so. Was very pleased to hear from her and will answer letter on. Give my love to all.
Your loving son, Ned.
On 26 April 1915, Alma wrote to her brother and received the above letter from Ned as she was about to send it off. Her writing shows true affection for her younger brother, who she recalls as a baby, and implores him to write more often and hopes they "put a pencil in your hand and say 'here Private Keemlé write to your mother and sister.'" Alma also writes of the difficulty in receiving accurate war news in Canada.
My dear Neddie,
There is a mail leaving in a day or two so I think I will try+ catch it. Hope life in the trenches is becoming more bearable with the nice spring weather and that you are well and happy. We have been having very mild weather here, too, just like the middle of summer. Mother is still in Toronto but expects to leave this week. She is waiting to see Ralph + his family. He is expected back from South American some time this week. They say the baby is very small but very sweet and pretty, that she is like her daddy and the Keemlé babies. It makes me feel very old when I look at you now but I can very distinctly recall what a cunning little beggar you were as a baby. Still have some cunning little ways left haven’t you?
Mother was over to the College yesterday and saw Father Roche who said he had received a card from you. We always watch eagerly for the English mails to see if there is one of those cards from you as they are very welcome in lieu of a letter or any other news from you. So I hope they continue to pass them along the trenches and put a pencil in your hand and say “here Private Keemlé write to your mother and sister” – as a matter of fact I believe you have some nice easy job and haven’t reached the trenches yet --- at least we hope so tho’ we can get so little authentic information – you’ve no idea how little really is known this side. You men know more than we do. Louis is down in Wilmington now and hopes to have a position soon but as far as we know he hasn’t one yet. Times are very hard here but I trust that brighter things are in store for us all in the future and that the war may end sooner than is predicted. God bless you Neddie and bring you back to us safe and sound again, very soon now.
Love your sister Alma.
Write as soon as you possibly can.
Just received your letter this morning and will attend to cigarettes right away. Mother is also writing as she is here.
Josephine Keemlé's letter to Ned, dated 1 June, was likely the last he received. As these letters, along with his belongings, would have been returned to his family after his death.
My darling Ned,
Your last letter has been received and it was a great comfort to know you are well. I pray hard every day for your safe return and somehow I feel sure it will be your fate to pull thru as so many things have happened in your life so short yet so full of experience. I really feel encouraged and you know I am placing my trust in the Sacred Heart you do the same. Implicit confidence and it will be sure to come. I say pretty much the same things in about all of my letters as since I know you do not receive near all of them. I always say I write you every week which I do. I sent your tobacco as you requested some time ago while I was in Toronto about the middle of April and I sent Alma a check to send some more in case you did not get the first lot you can let me know when you want more. Louis is still with me here in the New England States but has a half promise of newspaper job. He is still in love with the Wilmington girl as he writes about everyday the silly thing. Would you have [believed] it. He told me you had an affair of your own, you were keeping dark, no wonder. You were ashamed of it. Dad keeps telling me every day that boy will bite your ear off yet, meaning Louis, and Louis says as Bunker Beau did. I could imagine nothing of less consequence. I’ll write as usual. Dad + Louis join me in love to our Soldier Boy.
These letters were donated to the library as a part of the Keemlé Family Papers in 2019.