by Sarah Benson-Lord
Trail Museum and Archives
In recognition of Remembrance Day, the Trail Museum and Archives shares a selection of shorter letters from DB (Daniel Bilson) Merry to his mother, Martha.
The son of George and Martha, Bilson was the youngest child of their union, and both brought in children from previous marriages. The Merry family is a familiar one in Trail. Farmers and loggers, the Merry family had several mills throughout the West Kootenay region and Bilson owned the Merry-Mitchell store on Spokane Street. Glenmerry is named for the Merry family, as George owned the hay-producing land for years before housing developments.
Bilson was born in Toronto in 1894, and the family moved to Trail in 1899. He enlisted as a soldier in the 109th Battalion, 1st Division in 1914. At Ypres in 1915, he was taken prisoner and held for three years. He attempted escape several times, but on the fourth attempt in 1918, he and two companions, Frank and Phil, succeeded.
The idle time Bilson spent in the camp was unbearable for him, as were the conditions. The separation from the outside world and from his family were devastating, despite the brave face he put on. Intensely loyal to his family and his country, Bilson seemed to make “pals” wherever he went, most of whom remained good friends for the rest of his life. He returned to Trail and married his wife, Eva Mitchell, in 1923. They raised four children here.
This collection, donated by Bilson’s grandchildren, contains 143 letters, several photographs, and war memorabilia and texts. The letters selected here offer a brief glimpse into the mind of Bilson, a prisoner of war, offering tidbits of his mental anguish and hope for his return home.
May 24, 1916;
My dear mother:
Just received your letter dated April 5 and contents digested as per usual. It certainly makes a difference to me and makes me realize there is more than one place on the globe and also some people who would like to see me again. You say be patient. Well we all are patient because there is no option. If we could dispel the one thought we constantly are thinking of, we would perhaps be better. However “roll on the time” is our motto so we endeavor to help it on some by busying ourselves.
I see by your that it is impossible for some to keep harmony. Probably it Is correct to say the fault is in ascendency, therefore we can expect no more of them. But carry on as you are. Remember, I would rather you would not show my letters to any other than the home circle, and then providing I haven’t criticized anyone in particular. Leave it to me and I’ll tell somebody something when I return.
I got two parcels from you, one November 26 and the other 8th April. Everything was as you packed it, the exception of the jam which had gone sour. The maple syrup was excellent. The cakes seemed as fresh as when I used to get them at home. I have lost the last of my Rossland chums. We are spread all over now, I still have two W.K. [West Kootenay] boys with me, but of course might lose them anytime. I got a card today from the Rossland Red Cross saying they were sending me a parcel. The Canadian Red Cross are sending me provisions regularly now. Two monthly. Must close now as it is getting late. Give my love to Roy & Anna, Ollis family, Papa, Louise, and Al & family. With best regards to all friends,
Your loving son,
DB Merry 23416
December 15, 1917
My dear Mother:
Received a letter from you a few days ago bearing a date I think this year but so long ago that I suppose all is stale by this time. Have had practically no mail for about six weeks. Parcels have been better so have not been so bad. I see by yours also Jade’s of 26 Sept. and 6 Oct you are having a bad time with your heart. Guess it is the same old complaint, too much activity. Take my advice for once, don’t do it. Seems that you and Papa will never take it easy as we say. It is not so with me but it matters little, although it is a little unpleasant. We strive to think of nothing simply to exist. Don’t be surprised to find us rather dull on returning.
Those books that were sent to me have not arrived yet. I have the wrapping of one which was taken out for censor. Will try and make good use of it. Try, I have tried so many things. French, German, only to find it does not stay. Conversation is better. Our thoughts are always too far away. Everyday has the same complaints. I have been so long waiting that it seems absurd to think of such things yet. However that’s what keeps us going. The money you received, $400 as you said, can’t be up to date so I guess they’re holding the remainder for the present.
It is too bad you have nothing to go for a ride in. If Papa gets that auto you’ll both have you holidays when I get back. Write and tell me all about what Al is doing. Where is Andy? I have nothing to say, can think of nothing so good night with my best love to all,