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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