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A soldier's unrequited love during WW1, as told through 100+ postcards

A selection of the postcards will be available for the public to view at the Legion on King Street in Mount Forest until Sunday in honour of Remembrance Day

MINTO ‒ When Kathy Cameron climbed into the loft of her parent's shed to find a few old messages written to her Nana from an old boyfriend, she never expected to stumble upon a tale of one-sided puppy love as told through hundreds of postcards sent during World War One. 

In between writing copious amounts of postcards and letters in crowded barracks to his love and family back home in Toronto, Cpl. Sydney Lawrence was in his early 20s when he was assigned to administrative tasks at Shorncliffe Hospital in Kent, England, one of over 600,000 Canadians deployed during WW1. 

According to Cameron, her Nana, Hilda Cunningham, was a young British immigrant "with a strong personality" living in Toronto, where she went on a few dates with Lawrence before he was deployed from Niagara in 1914. 

“You gotta feel bad for poor Sydney because, when you read the backs of the cards, he was obviously madly in love with her," said Cameron. "(In one postcard), Nana mentioned to him how much she liked one of the designs and you can see he went everywhere trying to find the whole series for her."

The 100+ postcards are stowed away in a mouse-eaten leather book labelled "postcards."

Some sport vintage war propaganda, often accompanied by quippy jokes, with one postcard reading "no gun ‒ no girl!" on the front and a message from Lawrence teasing "If only the Toronto girls put it into practice, it might bring a good result" on the back. 

"I do not feel satisfied unless I'm sending heaps of cards to you and my sisters, for what reason I do not honour," said Lawrence, in a postcard dated August 1915. "They are the only things we can afford to buy in Folkestone so I guess that is the reason." 

In other notes, Lawrence flirted unabashedly, signing with "loudest love" or in one Valentine's postcard, a simple "guess who?" – remarking in a February 1918 postcard that while he's not sure how many cards he's sent altogether but he "would rather (Cunningham) have them twice than not at all." 

“(Sydney) will often say he’s going to send a letter in the same mail so these (postcards) are all very tame," said Cameron. "I would have loved to see the letters (but) that was probably something Nana didn’t get away with keeping after she married Pop." 

Although several postcards mention attempts to visit during the holidays, Cameron said she doesn't believe Lawrence and Cunningham reconnected after the war, with Cunningham marrying her Pop, John Pidgeon in 1919, which let "poor Sydney know he was out of the running." 

"Young women would often send men off to war with hope – whether they meant it or not – so I think that may have been part of it," said Cameron. "But when I did ask Nana why she never married him, she said 'he was very boring.'"

In honour of Remembrance Day, a selection of postcards will be available for the public to view at the Legion on King Street in Mount Forest until November Sunday. 

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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