This entry will focus on the content of this almost-complete book, and its contribution to my understanding of 20th Century history.
Letters can cover a lot of territory. Most letters between family members report what's going on in the life of the writer - births and deaths and marriages in the family, travels, small daily items like the price of butter. Half a century, a century later, these events take on a larger significance than they might have at the time, and a greater interest to the reader, especially if that reader has a kin connection to the writer.
One of the groupings of letters will be the focus of this report - those from the Sturge-Artiss family in Birmingham. A very early letter to the Ranch was to my father Bob Hinde from his uncle-by-marriage Edward Sturge. It had been written from a train; Edward was travelling into Devonshire to look into a matter of a property there. His comments about the passing scene included the impact the war had had on what he was seeing - World War I, 1915, almost a century ago now. It is a VERY different matter to read about the war or see movies or documentaries about it, and to read the thoughts of a person who was living it.
This applies also to letters written to the Ranch by Edward Sturge's wife, my grandmother's sister Annie, and their daughter Mary, in the thirties and during World War II. A different matter indeed. They lived in Britain's industrial midlands, and their city, Birmingham, was bombed heavily during the war. Mary Sturge Artiss described living in the midst of a balloon barrage, and the impact it had on her four children. One of the balloons was tethered in their garden, brought down each morning to be recharged, and then sent aloft again to forestall low-flying bombers. She commented that this may have been counterproductive because it meant the bombers had to fly much higher, consequently were much less accurate in targeting factories and munitions plants, instead dropping their bombs on residential areas. But the children regarded that barrage balloon as their personal airborne dinosaur and gave it an affectionate name.
One of her sons brought home the story from school that he felt left out because most of the other children had pieces of shrapnel to show, or bomb damage to describe; through the entire war the whole family and their residence were undamaged.
And then for a time the bombing ceased. Mary Artiss's letter then said it was because the bombers had all gone to the Russian front. I had the sense of the sweep of history, with these people, my FAMILY (Mary Artiss would be my first cousin once removed) being in the midst of what I had only read about.
Food was a huge issue. Not long after the war began, the family at Valley Springs Ranch began sending food parcels to the family in Birmingham. Rationing was severe in England, and continued for many years after the war. Canada was food-rich. Those food parcels - lard, raisins, sugar - were much appreciated. The restrictions were never mentioned as a complaint, rather, with an air of "We're coping," and joyful descriptions of the culinary delights created by the gifts from across the sea.
Letters teach history in a way other reading cannot. Letters have an immediacy, and an ability to capture something of the character of the writer within the context of a time and place. From my work with the letters of my kin, I thought that if I were ever to write of my life, it would probably be through letters. Then I recalled that for the first half century of my life I wrote scarcely any letters. Nor did I keep a diary or a journal. So my life, if ever it is written of, might have memories but not the immediacy of letters and journals.
Status of Letters to the Ranch: Final editing/proofing, although I have said that before and been proven wrong. I am determined to finish it in 2008. Copies will go to each branch of cousins and second cousins on my father's side.