While preparing props to use in an “In Flanders Fields” one-man show, I found on eBay a stash of twenty World War I era letters for a very reasonable price. I thought they’d be the perfect thing for stage dressing, and also to get an idea of the penmanship of the era, since I was going to be hand-writing the letters I’d actually be reading from in the performance.
The seller on eBay hadn’t indexed or even read the letters. When they arrived, I realized they comprised a series of 17 letters, all written by one Harold Lampshire, a sailor serving on the U.S.S. Unalga, to his mother, Mrs. Louise Lampshire of Los Angeles, California. The letters were written between March and December of 1918. There were also two letters Harold wrote to his mother in the 1930s, and one from his father to his mother from 1908.
As I read through the letters, I was taken by the easy conversational tone the young sailor took in his letters to his mother. The subject matter is certainly not as compelling as in the letters from Victor Chapman and Alan Seeger, who served in the French Foreign Legion from the start of the war. But they open a window onto a time when young men wrote long letters by hand to their mothers, sometimes daily.
The Unalga’s war-time mission was essentially the same as its peace-time one (when it was a Coast Guard cutter), enforcing the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911.
Having missed the opportunity to publish these letters on the 100th anniversary of their writing, I will post each one 102 years to the day from which Seaman Lampshire wrote them.
Each date’s link will take you to a separate page containing the full text of the letter, a link to a slideshow containing images of the letters, and an audio recording in which I read the letter.
As I typed up the letters I tried to maintain Harold’s style of writing as much as possible, making only minor edits when required for clarity. As a result, there are certain idiosyncrasies of style and spelling that remain.
My hope is to locate relatives of Harold Lampshire who might be interested in having these letters. Failing that, I will donate them to The Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California.
And now, please click this link to join me on a voyage to one hundred and two years in the past!