Ulderique Loiseau, a barber, married Annie Manville in Kingston in 1889 when he was seventeen years old. They had at least six children in 1914 when he enlisted in the 21st Battalion. Ulderique himself was 42 years old at the time; his youngest child, William (who he called “kissing bug”), was only five. Ulderique’s letters from the front are endearing and heartbreaking, and you can even hear his french accent in them. Here are a few excerpts:
[May 16 1915, Sandlin Camp, Kent, UK]
Dear wife and children
i got in on the 15 of may in Plymouth harbour and we where 10 days on the water…. and we had a good trip right true but for two days we had very bad sea. and more so because we had submarine after use but we got away from them because the Cappitain change his coase he took anotther direction and we landed here safe. And now my dear wife … the minister he preache that we how to pray god for getting of the way … but we got out of there way you bet. and where glad of it so now my dear wife… I pick up some grass and few leaffs on the ground the very spot and I am sending them to you… now tell me all about the family and how little willy is and all the rest… Kiss all the children for me and tell them all to Kiss you for me and remember me. I remaine you Husban. U. Loiseau… Answer soon.[Sept. 27 1915, Belgium]
Dear wife and children… Well Annie we have been in the trenges 6 days and it been raining two days but we are doing well… I can not tell you much abut here for you know we are not alow. but you tell me that you write every week, it very grievous I have not got a letter from you in over tree weeks. I began to think you are forgeting me. .. Remember me to all those that inquire about me and kiss all the children for me. wild I am writing this letter the firing works are going on. feel blas all around me. it like the first of july in the states. now my dear I will close my letter by wishing you god speed and hoping to hear from you soon from your husband who don’t forget ever U Loiseau xxxxxxxxxxxx
tell little willy that papa don’t forget him. this is for him xxxxxxxxx[March 7 1916, Flanders]
Well Annie wild I writing this letter I am on sentry. I just been heating my breakfast and my toe was as cold as ice. mud also in my finger. everyting is not as nice here as it is in the city. Well Annie you ask me what to sent me… you can send me… some shaving soap and a barber comb and a new hair clot for cutting hair. sometime i get a chance to make a few hair cut when the weather is fine. I got the one you made me before I left Kingston yet but there was a shell went trough my tools and.. brock two of my razor…. I got [a letter] from maryrose a couple of day ago and she told me she is working in the sugar factory with Alice and she like it well and tell me that she can play anyting on the piano she like but all by rote and that is good…. I am very glad that Dilia like her school so very much. she is a good gil but she must…stay home to help you some time. … I suppose kissing bug is not going to school yet. …may god bless you all and may we meet together again soon…
On April 16 Lieutenant Macnee wrote to tell Annie Loiseau that her husband had died in the trenches under heavy artillery bombardment, and had been buried two miles back from the front in Belgium.
Thus was Annie left a widow. Even without this story, photos of Annie show here to be an arresting presence: sober but somehow playful, substantial but feminine. She had a pension, and her older children were out working — among those still at home in 1921, the girls were cigar makers and domestics, and Leo was a butcher. Later, Leo and his wife Josie Desrosiers started a store on Bagot Street under the name Bird’s Grocery. Leo decided not to teach his five daughters French; as his daughter Sylvia says, “I knew our name was Loiseau, but I thought my dad had had it legally changed, you know, to the English. And I didn’t know, until I got married in 1961, that my birth certificate was ‘Loiseau.’”
For more about Leo Bird and his family, see here [link to Bird page]
Warm thanks to Sylvia McElroy for photos and stories, and to Peter Gower for transcriptions of the Uldrique Loiseau letters.