Papa’s Babies: The Brook Family and the First World War

Thank you to our guest author Ashley Henrickson for this interesting post. Ashley is a M.A. student at the University of Lethbridge and the Museum Educator at the Galt Museum and Archives. Her research examines the experiences of young people living in the Canadian Prairies whose fathers or brothers served overseas during the First World War. Ashley received the Roger Soderstrom Scholarship in 2017. The funds from this scholarship allowed her to visit archives across Alberta and present her research at “Children, Youth, and War,” a symposium hosted by the University of Georgia.

A never-ending cycle of children, chores, and neighbors cut through Isabelle Brook’s home, constantly interrupting the letters she wrote at her kitchen table. Isabelle apologized for her “jumbled up” proses as she paused to prepare dinner, answer the door, or tend to her busy children: “Alice is here wiggling around like a little eel, so I must quit”; “Gordon is wakening up I must go”; “Glen’s upset the ink over the table cloth now.” The constant movement suggests that life for Isabelle and her five children may have been lonely without their father, but it was not dull.

The hundreds of “jumbled up” letters that Isabelle wrote from her kitchen table in Craigmyle, Alberta, are a valuable and vibrant record of Alberta’s past. She sent these letters to her forty-five-year-old husband, Sidney Brook, who served on the Western Front with the Canadian Expeditionary Force from 1916-1918. In response Sidney sent hundreds of letters to his family, which were preserved alongside Isabelle’s by their descendants and then donated to the Glenbow Archives. The Brook’s collection is especially valuable because very few letters sent from families living in Alberta to soldiers serving overseas have survived to the modern day. This is because soldiers, like Sidney, were constantly moving across the Western Front and had to carry all their personal belongings with them. This forced them to destroy all but a few precious letters that they could fit in their pocket.

Letter from Sidney Brook to his wife Isabelle, January 7, 1917 (from the Brook family fonds, Glenbow Museum and Archives, http://www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingAids/archhtm/brook.cfm).

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