The First World War in real time

The First World War experience in real time

By Alana Power 

The Londoner

Posted 10 hours ago
20 Dec 2011 
On December 13, 1916, Private Dick Armer wrote home from Shorncliffe Camp in England, to his "dear old girl" Mabel.
In the letter he talks about looking forward to the day he can come home when his duties as a soldier in the First World War are over and ­celebrate, and worries that he will have to be reintroduced to his children and wife, joking that she won't be used to having a man around the house.
The London man had promised Mabel, who was at home with their two children and pregnant with their third, that he would write home every day. It was a promise he kept, writing letters home every day he could, only missing those when he was out on duty.
The letters can be seen online, at a blog called "Dear old girl," created by Museum Strathroy-Caradoc and volunteer John Sargeant. The letters, which were donated to the museum by descendants of the Armers living in Middlesex County, were scanned by Sargeant and are posted online daily.
Armer was a recent immigrant to Canada, ­having arrived in from Ulverston, England, just four years prior to enlisting. He strongly believed it was his duty to serve Canada and the old country.
After enlisting, Armer spent about four months at the Borden training camp west of Barrie. In late October 1916 he and other soldiers boarded a train to Halifax, and then a ship to Europe. He arrived in France to fight in April 1917.
His letters are posted on their corresponding date, 95 years later. The letter from Dec. 13 1916 was published on Dec. 13, 2011. Connecting the dates allows readers of the blog to get a glimpse into what life was like for Mabel Armer in real time, as she waited for her husband's letters, ­worrying that something may have happened to him if a day goes by without a letter.
One thing that is clear through the correspondence is the strong love that Armer felt for Mabel.
"A lot of it is not so much about what he's doing, but how he misses her and wishes he was there to help her," said Sargeant, who lives in London. "It's a look into this guy's tender heart for this moment."
Many of the letters capture Armer's emotional struggle between leaving behind his family, and holding a deep conviction that his duty was to fight for his country.
"I cannot express to you how much I miss you all and long for a kiss and a good hug," he wrote to Mabel on July 10, 1916. "Give them [William and Margaret] a good love-up and kiss from Daddie and send me a snap of them for Daddie is lonely."
As for whether Armer survived the war, it's a closely guarded secret, one that Sargeant won't reveal. Readers of the blog will have to follow along to see if the letters keep coming to his "dear old girl."
To follow the "Dear old girl" project, visit


Museum Strathroy-Caradoc said...

Our thanks to Alana Power of The Londoner for this article.

Anonymous said...

I read the article with great interest; Mabel Dickinson Armer was my great-aunt. She and Dick lived across Wellington Rd. from the rest of the Dickinson family. It was where the LCBO opposite Watson St. is now. There was a swampy depression by the house, and Mable got malaria while pregnant with daughter Dorothy. We still don't know why Dick was allowed to enlist, what with two children , and a third on the way... My grandfather, frank Dickinson, who also enlisted ,would never answer that question. My only guess is that they were not turning down any volunteers.
by Mike Niederman

Museum Strathroy-Caradoc said...

Thanks for the information Mike. It certainly clears up what Mabel was suffering from and why Dick was so anxious about her. Can't imagine the suffering she must have endured. Pregnant, suffering from malaria, and her husband in the army. Strong lady.

Mike Niederman said...

If you check the attestation papers- (here's Dick's:, you'll see their address was where the Women's Community House stands today. I know Mabel would appreciate this. Dorothy was always 'sickly', as they said then, probably from the malaria her mother had while carrying her.