Many people have asked for an update about the World War I German letter that my summer students posted on our blog last August so I’m going to share what we have learned. The letter was found tucked in the back of a World War I messenger book during our annual exhibit inventory. The book use to belong to Arthur Cleveland Kelly.
Here is what we have learned so far …
The letter is written in a Sütterlin script and unfortunately, not a lot of people read Sütterlin anymore. The modern German script that we are familiar with today came into use in 1941.
I posted the letters on Sparked Microvolunteering and was fortunate to have Finn, Sophie Anna, Anna and Julia find the post and offer thier assistance. Finn commented that, “the problem is not the translation but the transliteration of the text …. But I’ve sent it to a club who hopefully will tralsliterate it for free.” Yah Finn!
Shortly afterwards, Finn was able to provide a translation of the text from Sütterlin to the modern German text.
“Good news! I’ve got the transcription today!! I’m very excited about it. But I have to say it’s a pretty weird German, because people back then spoke differently. But all I can say at this point that it is a pretty sad letter. It’s a letter of a very worried mother who hopes to see her son again. She tells him that other people/sons from the village died and that they don’t have much food (I think).
One thing about who did this transcription: It’s done by a NGO who works with old people who want to do something for the community. They are using the knowledge of these old people and letting them transcript Sütterlin texts. I think this is a great project!” (Finn)
Afterwards, Finn provided this translation:
Top-Left: Again, I hope to see you again soon!
Mauth, 29 March 13
Since I didn’t get a letter from you since 5 days I have to send you a small letter again. I was hoping to receive news today but then I didn’t get anything again. You will still be happy after all, but I can’t sleep again. Why? Because I have to speculate all the time. Dear Ludwig, I also can inform you that I got 4 bags full with potatoes out of the pit yesterday and today and the more I get into it the more they are rotten. The 4 bags are pretty slimy. At home in the pit we have none of them anymore. Many people have none and the potatoes are so sweet that you almost can not eat them. If only I could get the seeds out of them, I wouldn’t say anything then.
Dear Ludwig, Hans Krickl had his wedding on Monday and I can write to you that the old Hans Hackl from Zwolfhäuser died and was last Friday down in Mauth and today in the morning died Hans Lenzer from Anathal. Dear Ludwig, the day before yesterday even your brother Hans and his wife were down here and he sharpened his axe. I weren’t at home, because I was in church, because it was my confession day. They were also confessing and I should have said something about sharpening the knife, because I have again no blade, but he didn’t grind it. So I have to go up to the Zwölfhäuser again, because there is no one else. Dear Ludwig, I am just curious if you can come. If you just could come over to us, I am worried about it again, but it is good that it is not that far. Dear Ludwig, for today I have to end the writing because I don’t know more. We are all healthy, too and I hope this with all my heart for you, too. To see you soon would be our only wish. I hope to get a letter from my dear Ludwig tomorrow, who is the only pleasure in my life. Only the loving God – if he would help us that this war is ending soon and that you could come happy and healthy but healthy is nobody coming anymore. I hope to see you again soon, your loving and memorable Berta and her children. Love – Mother.
Not long after that, Julia provided a translation.
Again, lots of luck and hope to see you soon!
As I haven‘t had a message from you in 5 days, I again have to send you a little letter, I really waited for a message today and again I got nothing – you probably will still be quite happy so I again cannot sleep tonight, why? Because I have to speculate. Dear Ludwig I also can inform you that I got 4 sacks of potatoes from the pit yesterday and today and the more you get into it, the more they are rotten. The 4 sacks are all mush. Back home in the pit there aren‘t any left and many people don‘t have any at all and so sweet ones that you can barely eat them, if only I could get seeds out of it. I wouldn‘t say anything like that then.
Dear Ludwig, the Krickl Hans had his wedding on Monday and I can also write you that the old Hackl Hanses of Zwolfhäuser has died yesterday though he was down in Mauth last Friday and this morning the Lenzer Hans of Anathal died. Dear Ludwig the day before yesterday even your brother Hans and his wife came down and ground the hatchet, I wasn‘t at home because I was in church because I had my confession day and they were also confessing and then the mother said something about grinding the scythe, because I again don‘t have any cutting edge left, but they didn‘t grind it for me in the end, so I have to take it up to the Zwölfhäuser again, as there isn‘t anybody else. Dear Ludwig, I‘m just curious, if you‘re able to come. If you could only come for circumscribing the land, I am already worried about that, the only good thing is that it isn‘t far. Dear Ludwig, for today I just have to close my letter, as I don‘t know anything more, healthy are all of us, too, which is something I wish for you with all my heart and to see you soon would just be our only wish – hopefully I will get a message from my beloved Ludwig who is my only joy in this world tomorrow. If only God would be on our side and war would be over soon so that you could come home happy and healthy, but then again, nobody returns healthy. To a happy seeing you soon, very cordial regards from your lovely, loyal, unforgettable Berta alongside children,
One of the York Sunbury Historical Society’s board members, Gary, found the letter posted on a Great War Forum and a member provided this information:
“Compared to a lot of Feldpost I’ve seen, the handwriting is actually quite neat and fairly easy to read – if you know what you’re looking at – although the grammar and spelling is rather iffy in places.
After a little rummaging in the Bavarian records on Ancestry, I must say I think they might be wrong to so readily attribute the letter to Ludwig’s mother. Nowhere does it say “my dear son” or “from your loving mother”. I think it’s from his wife Berta, who just signs as “mother” in the same way that parents often call each other mum & dad.
If we can assume this, then I reckon we can tentatively identify Ludwig as Gefreiter Ludwig Gassler of 8. Kompanie, bayrisches Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr.1. He was born in Mauth, Bezirksamt Wolfstein on 23/10/1887, a woodcutter by trade, married to Berta nee Fuchs, with 3 children. His father Franz is a widower (so if we do assume the letter was written by his wife, we’re committing ourselves rather…).
Other details from the letter that make me think this is the right chap:
1) He appears to be the only Ludwig from Mauth with a wife called Berta.
2) The letter mentions a visit from his brother Hans plus wife.
There’s a record for one Johann Gassler of Mauth with the same widowed father, married to Maria but with no children (only married in 1914), who served with bayr.
Armierungs-Btl Nr.5 and Landsturm-Infanterie-Ersatz-Btl Passau I until discharged in November 1916 (born 1879, so getting on a bit) to work for the Royal Forestry Office at Mauth-West.
As to why Ludwig hadn’t written for several days, there is no immediately apparent reason in the records (Berta’s letter is dated 29/3/17).
The Stammrolle mentions that he was out of the line from 27/12/16 to 18/1/17 with bronchial catarrh, but perhaps that’s not much of a reason to stop writing.
The next entry says that Ludwig was posted missing at Thélus on 9/4/17 (but this is 10 days *after* Berta’s letter, and more than 2 weeks after he stopped writing), and he was later confirmed to be PoW by a letter from his wife dated 29/5/17.
I suppose he was in a front-line trench in March ’17, so maybe he was just too busy to write, or maybe he did write and his letter was delayed/lost for some other reason.
He’s not listed on the war memorial at Mauth:
although there is a Ludwig Gassler there, who must be a relative, who died in WW2.
So let’s all hope that Berta and Ludwig were reunited in 1919 and lived happily ever after.
Just looked up the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Bloody hell! Thélus (where Ludwig Gassler was posted missing on 9/4/17) was right in the path of 6th and 4th Canadian Infantry Brigades on that very day.
Can anyone confirm whether the finder of the letter (Lt Arthur Cleveland Kelly, attested to 12th Bn CEF) was in one of these brigades??
Great photo of A.C. Kelly at
I wish I knew whom to thank for this information, but I don’t. I do appreciate their time and energy though.
The link provided to the information about A. C. Kelly, I believe, is incorrect. The Arthur Cleveland Kelly who found the letter was from Stanley New Brunswick. Born on 9 February 1886, Cleve listed “farmer” as his occupation on his Attestation Papers though he did spend 11 years in the 71st Regiment. He enlisted in the 12th Battalion on 28 September 1914 though he served in the 5th Battalion. He met his wife while in the hospital in England. Her name was Mabel Hilda Jarvis and she was a Nurse’s Aid. According to his son, Harold, he served in the Vimy Ridge area, supposedly on a construction crew. He attended the Vimy Ridge Memorial Dedication with his family in 1936.
The German letter was tucked into the back of the Kelly’s field messenger book. The book has a very interesting history. As the story goes, Kelly was walking to see his men when several bullets ricocheted nearby; not much attention was given to the wandering bullets. Only when he felt a numbing pain in his hip did Kelly begin to worry. When he looked himself over, he found that shrapnel from a “bursting shell” had pierced his message book, which caused the momentum of the bullet to decrease sharply. The messenger book therefore probably saved his life.
I found a page in the book that documents the discovery of the German letter (see image). Unfortunately there is no date on the page.
Transcription of text pertaining to the letter on messenger book page:
“Pt D. La Belle
German letters found in dug out near Bn HQ the night of the attack. German Officer’s body with #4 on shoulder.”
I was talking to military historian Bob Dallison about the letters and later he sent this in an e-mail to me:
“As we determined today, Lieut Kelly served in the 5th Battalion. That is now the North Saskatchewan Regiment. How he ended up a prairie unit, I can not explain. The 5th Battalion in the Battle of Vimy Ridge was on the extreme right of the Canadian line, opposite to the 1st Bavarian Reserve Regiment.
That fits very nicely with the information you have on Ludwig.”
That is all that I know at this point. I would love to know more about Ludwig and Berta! Was Berta Ludwig’s wife? If so, what became of them? What about their children? Do their descendants know about this letter? If not, I hope they find it on the blog. That would be amazing!
Thank you to the volunteers who helped me with this project, Sparked Microvolunteering for giving me a platform to find volunteers, Gary, Bob, Vincent, Irmgaard, Finn, Sophie Anna, Anna, Julia and the mystery researcher from the Great War Forum. Thank you to the media who covered the story and brought new light to it. CBC Fredericton’s Information Morning, the Daily Gleaner and Andy from CTV’s Live at 5.
If anyone wants to pick up the research from here, please do and share your findings in the comments!
Arthur’s First World War Personnel Records can be found at this link, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=484663
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Corrected! Thanks Julia!
Hey there, I just read my translation again and there’s a small mistake in it, as I took Sam as a placeholder and forgot to replace it in the end…it of course has to be “if only I could get the seeds out of it” instead of “if only I could get Sam out of it”. Maybe you could correct it in the translation above?! Thank you :).