The Richardson Brothers

The Poilu's Litany

Handwritten copy of "The Poilu's Litany" originally written by Kathleen Burke, a Red Cross Nurse working in France. Copied by Reginald Richardson and sent in a letter to his sister, Austin Richardson Ferris.

Studio photograph of Reginald Richardson

Studio photograph of Reginald Richardson in uniform, [1915]

The Richardson family from Ingersoll, Ontario was a tight-knit family of thirteen. The Fisher library holds their family papers, which contain over 90 letters, postcards and photographs. The collection describes the reality of the First World War through the writing of three brothers - Ted, Reg and Harry - who had markedly different experiences. 

Second-youngest son, Edward “Ted” Anderson Richardson (1897-1975) enlisted immediately after his eighteenth birthday on 6 September 1915 and was assigned to the 87th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He trained in nearby Woodstock, Ontario before leaving for England in March 1916. He would be the first Richardson brother to reach the battlefields of France on 12 August 1916. He was hospitalized four times throughout the war, with illnesses that were a direct result of the harsh and unsanitary living conditions of the trenches - rheumatism and boils, as well as a broken ankle sustained from jumping into a shell hole. 

Oldest son, Thomas Reginald Richardson (1891-)  was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 27 November 1915 into the 71st Battalion. He sailed to England on the 2 April 1916, and arrived in France in October 1916, after spending over a month hospitalized with influenza. He would spend the greater part of two and a half years fighting in France.  

Middle son, Harry Stephenson Richardson (1893-1966) enlisted on 24 September 1917 and served in the University of Toronto’s O’s Company. He was discharged from the company on 1 July 1918 to serve as a commissioned officer in the Imperial Army. He travelled to England to begin officers school and was still undergoing training when the Armistice was signed in November 1918.

Letter from Edward Richardson to his father, Henry Richardson

Letter from Ted Richardson to his father, Henry Richardson after the death of his mother, 2 May 1918

Amazingly, all three sons would survive the war and return home. However, the war would not be without tragedy. The boys were all serving, two overseas, when their beloved mother, Helen Austin Richardson, died unexpectedly on 26 April 1918. Oldest son Reg was given the news and travelled from his camp, to deliver the news and comfort Ted at the front.

The next day, Ted wrote to his father, marking the letter, "somewhere in France."

Thursday May 2/18

My dear Father –

Reg found me yesterday after riding about some 40 odd kilometres you can imagine how I felt about the news that he had for me.

There is really not much good of me trying to express my feelings because as you know father there is no one in the family that ever loved each other more than mother and I.

As it is God has called her to a better world and mother will be happy and I am sure I will never forget the things which she taught me.

Some fellows who left Canada have fallen down but the reason why I have not is because of the love of you and mother and the way in which you both brought me up.

I had been worrying a good deal about mother and you this spring and lately for some reason or other about mother.

As Reg says father we must not think about it and make the best fit. I know that if I do allow myself to think that it will go hard.

We will just carry on as mother would wish us to do.

We are both in the best of health and feeling O.K. I expect to see Reg again in a day or two as he was in a hurt to get back to his battery. Well Father must write Sus and Helen a line so will close. I hope you are better now and making the best of our great loss. The very best love. Your loving son, Ted.

Photograph of [Harry and Ted  Richardson]

Photograph of [Harry and Reg Richardson] sent to Ted at the Front from Harry, [1918]

Each brother had his own unique war-time experience. Ted was an enlisted man, Reg was an officer, Harry spent time at the University of Toronto and in London without ever seeing the battlefield. Their reality and participation in the war are best described in their own words. 

Below are three letters with transcriptions - one from each brother - all written to their oldest sister, Austin "Aut" Richardson Ferris.

Click on any letter to read the remaining pages. 

Letter from Edward Anderson "Ted" Richardson to his sister, Austin Richardson Ferris

Letter from Ted Richardson to his sister, Austin Richardson Ferris, 5 October 1918

France

Saturday October 5/18

My dear Austie; -

Well Aut here I am still going strong I don’t think that I expected to be a few days ago. We have been in sure a great scrap. Drove the Hun back several miles our of places that they […] have been won and lost several times by other troops, we didn’t expect to loose this ground I am sure because there were no trenches back of it. I can tell you that the prisoners seemed mighty glad to get into our hands and we captured a great many of them. He sure is getting defeated all along the line. Went over the top several times and was in the thick of the fighting all the time, but the nearest I could get to a blightey was a big scratch on the leg. The scrapnel hit flat on my leg and did not go in so I did not get out with it. Oh well cheerio, I would first as soon not get hit at all.

Reg came over to see me one night and I was eating my supper so invited him to share it. He had a little piece of bread and jam and some tea to drink out of a dirty old mess tin. I was an awful sight to look at but we should worry when the sap was running and an odd drop might have fell into the tea.

I had a letter from Harry and he seems fine. He sent me some snaps of him and reg and they are very good. I think you will like them.

Received letters from you all and a parcel from Fran and Stan certainly was glad to them all.

I sent over to Elsie Sawtell to send on my vest as it is getting cold now. The boots are fine Aut and have worn them all the time. They blister my heels though as they are about tens and I wear eights.

Aut you can send anything you like for Xmas. I will be going on leave about then so will be able to buy things and get a good rest. You can just about guess what we want over here. Socks gloves anything to keep warm and to eats or chocolate.

Reg had on his boots when he came over to see me and they fit him fine. I will hang on to mine though very likely, but […] this time. I had them on for about eight days and also did a good deal of walking I can tell you.

You must see that Father is more careful with his health because if we lose him I don’t know what I would do.

We have a regular feed here tonight which we bought at the Ymca, corn, sardines, biscuits and coffee and bread. We are down in old Hun dug-outs and will have a great little feed directly. We get fed very well but I am always hungry.

Well Aut, I hope you are all well in Toronto and tell Fran and Stan that I am writing them right away. I show that snap of little Reg to everybody. He is a great chap.

Write soon and give my regards to Robert.

Your loving Bro.

Ted.

Letter from Reginald Richardson to his sister, Austin Richardson Ferris

Letter from Reg Richardson to his sister, Austin Richardson Ferris, 12 May 1917

France

12 May 1917

My dear Aut,

This is a low war these days, it is now about 9.30PM and the our ground is shaking with the roar of the guns going off and shells dropping around. Last night I did not get much sleep and early this morning  I was running around half dressed Fritz dropped a shell about 3 feet from me in my little shelter.

I received a couple of letters from you just lately and notice that you have been home for some time fattening up. I wish I was over that way as I can assure you this is not the healthiest place in the world at present even if the weather is ideal. He is just starting again to night to drop shells around promiscually and I might have to beat it at any moment but such is life in France. Oh Aut if I only come back what I shall be able to tell you people and you know I was always a cheerful little exaggerator.

So you have taken up your abode at the Westminister Hotel. You want to get busy and get a house and settle down again.

Received a letter from Ted and he is coming over here any day now. I will do my best to get him with me. Tell Fan and Louise I shall write as soon as possible but it is not very convenient these troublesome days.

I am in a queer predicament at the present moment. I have a large tin full of water to bathe in and I am scared to take off my clothes for fear I might have to move anytime, another officer lying on a trunk beside me chuckling away at my predicament. Well Aut very best love to Bob.

Your loving brother, Reg.

Letter from Harry Richardson to his sister, Austin Richardson Ferris

Letter from Harry Richardson to his sister, Austin Richardson Ferris, 15 November 1918

Nov 15 1918

Dear Austie,

Here I am back at barracks after a weeks holiday in London. They closed the school from Nov 6th to 13th on account of the “Flu.”

Everybody was leaving here and not knowing any other place to go to, I went up to London. I would like to go up to Scotland or Ireland but not knowing anyone up there I did not feel like wandering around alone.

I was very lucky being in London when the armistice was signed and I also saw the Lord Mayor’s show and they say it was better this year than it has ever been before.

There was some celebration last Monday, the day the armistice was signed. I am very glad I was there to see it all. I wrote and told Fran all about it so you see her letter. I am not lazy but I don’t like writing letters. I got a letter from you written Oct 20, and I was very glad to hear from you. I am glad you like the snaps I sent you and I will send you a picture of me or a photo perhaps I should say. Had them taken while in London. I haven’t got the proofs yet but I expect to get there within a few days.

Well Austie the war is over at last and we will soon be home again, there is a lot of excitement in the battalion over what is going to become of us here. The colonel tried to tell us this morning that we would not get our commissions but that we would carry on here and be in reserve if needed it was very vague, in fact the colonel said he could not quite get the drift of it, personally, I don’t care whether I get a commission or not as long as they let me get the hell out of here. I want to go home.

I am sorry to hear Bob has a cold, he must be careful not to get the “Flu.” It is quite dangerous, we had about a dozen cadets kick the bucket here and one sergeant instructor.

Did I tell you I had a parcel from the Lady Grey chapter I.O.D.E of Fort William. I got a nice parcel from them. I thought they had forgotten all about me up there.

I saw Charles Cooke in London he was chasing up the strand in the middle of the road like a kid that was on Armistice day, there were lots of Canadians around. The Y.M.C.A (Beaver) Hut on the Strand was crowded.

If you don’t get my next letter before Christmas I hope you have a happy time at Christmas time. I expect to be with Ted for Christmas so that will make us happy. Reg will try to be with us too.

With best love to all

Brother Harry

The collection of letters by the Richardson Brothers were acquired by the library through purchase in 2015. 

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The Richardson Brothers