Saturday, February 26, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (3) November 18, 1917

A photo of a typical plane that J.T. flew - after two weeks of
no flying, Jack was anxious to get back in the air.
With just a day left of his voyage across the ocean to Europe, J.T. Fairall writes his third of fifty-two letters during World War I.  He's getting impatient with the "monotony" of life on the sea, especially considering he recently had been actively flying every day while training for his responsibilities in the war.  And two weeks of relative inactivity have resulted in Jack gaining some weight.  So in addition to looking forward to flying again, he's also anxious to get back into shape.

You'll notice in this letter that a word or two has been erased possibly by a censor.  You can see this in the scanned image of the first page of the letter far below.  It is not the first time something has been censored in Jack's letters. Since this letter was written in pencil, it would have been easy for either Jack or a censor to erase information that could be of use to the Germans.

Finally, on a side note, I aim to include a relevant photo with each of these letters.  After the war, Jack put together a small photograph album of pictures he took.  I think these photos will add a layer of depth and interest to Jack's letters.

Jack's third letter:    

Dear Mother,

We will be in port tomorrow, can see both Scotland and Ireland now.  The trip has been very tiresome and only saw 2 ships and several schools of fish to break the monotony of seeing nothing but water.  It has been nothing but eat sleep and rest.  After flying every day for 2 or 3 mo., this inactivity is surely tiring.  We had a stopover in Halifax but were not allowed to go ashore.

Yesterday our fleet was met by a fleet of [erased - censored?] Destroyers.  They are very speedy and it helps some to watch them run around our scows*.  For the last 2 days we have had to lug a life preserver around with us all the time even to our meals.  The weather was a little rough mostly all the way over but none of the fellows got very sick.  The salt air affected me as it always does.  I have eaten so much that I am about to the butchering stage.  It will take a good bit of work to get down to normal again.

Our orders read to France but we are liable to land in Egypt before we are settled.  I sent a letter from Halifax.  Hoping that this finds all well.  I am

Your affectionate son Jack

Address J.T. Fairall R.M.A.
Aviation Section Signal Corps
American Expeditionary Force
Via New York

* A scow in the literal sense is a flat-bottomed boat with a blunt bow, similar to a barge.  In this case, Jack was possibly making fun of the slowness of their ships compared to the speed of the Destroyers.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The J.T. Fairall Letters: (2) November 17, 1917

In J.T. Fairall's second of fifty-two letters written during World War I, he is two weeks into the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.  He wrote this letter to his mother's brother Issy with an apology for not being able to meet up in New York before his ship went to sea.  His ship recently stopped in Halifax of Nova Scotia.  Interestingly, only a few days later on December 6, 1917, the largest explosion in world history at the time occurred at that same Halifax port, when two ships - one of them carrying munitions - had collided, resulting in more than 1,900 deaths.  Thankfully, Jack was already in France by that time. 

His letter reveals that there is a love for playing musical instruments in the family including the oboe and the cello.   Jack also mentions his desire to get a Lorey - it's unclear what instrument or brand he is referring to here, though there is a well-known company called Lowrey that makes pianos and organs.  In the photo below (taken after the war), Jack can be seen playing the violin while his wife Catherine plays the piano.

So here's Jack's second letter, in his own words:

Shipboard 11/17/17

Dear Issy*,

I am very sorry that I was unable to see you in New York.  I received your telegram just about an hour before we fell in to go to the ship.  I hope that you didn't come without my reply.  I am also sorry that I missed you while in Balto.  I would have phoned but didn't know your number nor your new address.

We stopped over at Halifax for a week but no one went ashore.  You cannot realize how tiresome it is to stay on board with land so close especially when it looks as though you could get most anything with a good rifle and shot gun and a good partner.  We will have to make the trip someday if nothing interferes.

The trip has been very uneventful, sighted two ships going opposite direction and a few odd fish.  For the last two days every one has been required to carry a life preserver around with them even to their meals.  I am continually leaving mine and having to trot back for it.  "great dope" also good exercise.  We surely haven't had very much of any other exercise.  Every morning we get out for fifteen minutes calisthentics, rather strenuous 15 min., every time the ship rolls you take a dive for the railing.  The mental exercise that we have is poker, blackjack, craps, chess, checkers, etc.  The rest of the time is spent wearing out your shoes on the deck or your trousers on a deck chair.  Some life!

We are now one or two days out and are surely glad that the trip is about over.  Two weeks on board ship is just beyond the point of enjoyment, especially when there are 4 in a stateroom and no ventilation.

Have you been able to do anything with the oboe?  Tell me in your next letter.  If I can get one reasonable I am going to get a Lorey.  It will be something to pass the time.  Do you still want me to look out for a cello.  If so let me know in your next letter. # For this time,

Address J.T. Fairall R.M.A.
Aviation Section Signal Corps
American Expeditionary Force
via New York

* Issy is short for Isadore Raynor Kline - Jack's maternal uncle.

Envelope (front)

Envelope (back)

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Monday, February 21, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (1) November 5, 1917

I'm grateful and honored that among my family history collection are fifty-two letters that my great-grandfather John "Jack" Tyler Fairall (b. 8 Apr 1892, d. 7 July 1972) wrote during World War I as a reconnaissance pilot in the 88th Aero Squadron.  I'm pleased to share with you not only my transcriptions of the letters, but also the scanned digitized copies of the letters and envelopes.  I have transcribed the letters word-for-word as they were written.  I will also follow up each transcription with any additional insights or interpretations I can provide based upon my research.

Firstly, a bit of an introduction to Jack Fairall's first letter, which was written while aboard a ship heading across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States.  He started out as a private rank in the Enlisted Reserve Corps on June 5, 1917.  He then attended the School of Military Aeronautics in Columbus, Ohio at The Ohio State University on June 11.  On the first of July, he was promoted to the rank of private first class.  About a month later, he then trained at the Aviation School at Wilbur Wright Field of Ohio on August 6.  Three months following that training on November 2, he was sent to Tours, France to begin his next steps of training at the 2nd Aviation Instruction Center.1

So, we begin with his first letter as he journeys eastward upon the great Atlantic ocean:

Shipboard 11/5/17

Dear Mother*

I surely am glad for this opportunity of writing.  We have had an excellent time very good food, and as quite a number of the fellows play the piano we have quite a bit of music especially after dinner.  The weather has been cloudy and for the last day or two the water has been rather rough, so far all have made very good sailors.  We are out of regular lanes of travel we have seen no ships.  On the second day out we went through a school of porpoise.  This has been the only happening to break the monotony of the water.

I received your letter saying that the sweater had been mailed but did not receive it before leaving it will be forwarded but there is no telling where it will catch up with us.

I am sorry that I was unable to see Raynor^ in New York and I surely hope that he didn't make the trip without hearing from me but I didn't receive his telegram until we were forming to leave and there was no possible chance to answer it there.  I wish that you would call him up and explain as I will be unable to write to him at this time.

Tell Cousin Estelle to write and send her "piece."  Tell every one to write but not to expect interesting letters as both the incoming and outgoing mail are censored and we are not allowed to say anything that could be of use to the Germans and as there is no telling when they might get their hands on our mail we must say nothing.


Aviation Section Signal Corps
American Expeditionary Force
Via New York, NY

P.S. I haven't received my commission yet.  Please write to Mrs. Lamien and ask her to send it home if it comes.  Then forward.  J.  

*John's mother's name was Anna E. Rentch (nee Kline, married to Milton Lee Fairall then a partner of John Elmer Rentch).
^Raynor is John's maternal uncle - Isador Raynor Kline.

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Source Citations

1 "Maryland Military Men, 1917-18," database, ( : accessed 21 February 2011), entry for John Tyler Fairall.