A treasured letter home penned by Capt. Albert James Pequegnat

An excerpt from a letter home to Stratford penned by Capt. Albert James Pequegnat during the First World War. Stratford-Perth Archives

Albert James Pequegnat served as a captain in the 1st Canadian Field Ambulance Corp during the First World War. When he died in 1959, his obituary reported that “after 1917… he became an ambassador of goodwill to American troops in the U.S. and Honolulu.” His brothers George and Nelson also served in the war and got home safely. Their father, James, had a well-known jewelry store in Stratford and the family lived on 109 Cobourg Street for many years (see Cobourg Street).

This treasure from Stratford-Perth Archives is a letter that Albert Pequegnat wrote home soon after arriving in France in the spring of 1915. It is one of many such letters preserved in the family’s papers at the archives. In this particular one, Albert described “the queer sensation” of a bomb landing near him and enclosed “a piece” of it with his letter.

"March 28, 1915

Hello Everybody –

Well, this is Sunday night and as per usual I’ll give you an idea of what this boy has been up to during the past week… I’d hate to have to go back before we’ve seen this game thro, and then before going I’d dearly love to visit the place of father & mother’s birth [in Switzerland], for dear only knows if ever I’d care to cross the briny ocean again while here I might just as well see all that’s worth seeing, and then go home to stay, for old Canada still looks good to me. One war in one’s lifetime is sufficient…

It didn’t take us long to reach this place…The hospital part looked pretty good to us, tho very dirty, but soap and water could quite easily remedy that trouble… We landed at our new quarters at about 10:30 a.m. and after getting all the men comfortably fixed in their homes, we, the officers, wandered away looking for a little spot that we could call our own… After trying a few places we came across a quiet, clean looking house…and to our great joy and delight they said that they had one room left and that was on the ground floor without any beds and they showed it to us.

I can assure you that the deal was closed in very short order, for as far as beds were concerned we scarcely know what they look like let alone feel, and we assured the good people that all we desired was the room, and our sleeping bags were all that we’d ever used since leaving Canada, but they felt so badly at the thought of us not having at least one feather tick, but it really wouldn’t be like a war if we ever slept in things like that, so we are in clover with a huge desk, stove, wicker chairs three, the kind that spread out like a bed, and generally speaking we are faring like two Princes, for the people are seemingly not able to do enough for us.

109 Cobourg Street Photo: Fred Gonder

By the way they are refugees and have taken over this home from a French Lieutenant who has just been killed a few weeks ago leaving an eight- day old baby and broken- hearted wife… The man, who by the way, was the mayor of the town in which they lived, and which is now occupied by the Germans was taken from his home by the [?] and marched by them through the streets in order to protect them from being snared by the French soldiers who were in the neighborhood and thus they tortured him for several days, for the French couldn’t fire for fear of killing the civilians. They had women and children out the same way and they pillaged the place leaving nothing of any use whatever. Finally the Mayor managed to break away and also his family but as a result his nerves are all shattered. One hears so many tales of woe in this game and I’m not only hearing them but seeing them…

This is a fairly large city, but not a very beautiful place, and until last week was within the range of the big German guns but now all we fear are the aircrafts… The other morning I sure did dress in a hurry, for I thought the house was going to cave in. What a noise. On looking out the window I saw the people all rushing towards their houses while a few of the braver were looking Heavenward. I readily understood the cause of the trouble. One of their [?] was overhead and dropped two bombs. The one landing in the cemetery while the other just about a hundred yards from yours truly. It did give me a queer sensation for a while, but it soon passed and I braved the elements and went out to see the extent of the damage. No one hurt, for it dropped in an open field not 25 yards from our transport and making a hole about the size of our sitting room. A rather close call for #1 Field Amb…I have a piece of the shell and will send it home. The Stratford boys weren’t within three miles of the scene and they didn’t know that anything like that had happened…

Felt rather tired last night, so I put off finishing this letter until today.

Well, yesterday was also one big day for me. About 8:35 AM. I started off on horse back to find the 1st Batt., but, someway or another I …lost my way and found myself amongst the Indian troops, however, I spent a little while with them then started back towards my home… After lunch my roommate and I started off on a long walk and about 3 p.m. we reached the 5th? Div advanced dressing station. Talk about your wrecked places. There’s scarcely a wall standing in the place and they do their work in a sort of dugout. The Germans still continue to shell this place, but luckily nothing like that happened while we were there, tho we could hear the bullets whizzing over our heads and there was a brief bombardment of artillery. We viewed the German trenches which had been used by the Huns all winter, and they sure didn’t have the need of any comforts, for they contained everything imaginable. I managed to get an officer’s Helmet and also a little trench cap worn by the Prussian Guards.

The present German trenches were in quite plain view from where we were and they no doubt could see my corpulent form quite distinctly but never took advantage of me. We remained at the dressing station for about twenty minutes then we started back towards home. On the way we met a company of Gurkhas, or something like that, on the march and stopped them and we saw their weapon of war called (khukuri – a type of machete). It sure does look dangerous and when they gave us an idea how they used it on the Germans it almost made my blood run cold… Well, after this exhibition we started off again and we reached a cross road and there stopped for a few moments again to view an air fight.

Gurkha Khukuri Blade

Talk about pouring shells into the air space, but our British aeroplanes were too much for them, however, while we were still standing there along comes a German Tanbe and we thought it high time to move on. It did a little circling about, then apparently signaled a position to the Gunners, for almost immediately along came about a dozen shrapnel shells bursting just almost where we had left and almost amongst the Gurkhas who were following behind, however, no one was hurt. We stopped to look at the shells bursting but didn’t feel quite so comfortable as I would feel at home in dear old Stratford. It is rather strange how quickly one gets accustomed to the roar of guns and goes about without much fear…

About the saddest sight today was the new cemetery of just three weeks with about six hundred graves. These brave boys all fell in this last great charge of our boys at _____. You will know the place for the papers have been full of it during the past three weeks… it must have been terrible…

I’m always glad to hear from home and it always cheers me… Give my best love to everybody and don’t fret about me, for I’m alright, only homesick… Good-bye for now, As ever, Albert.