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Two Likely Lads Foreword by Thomas H.B. Symons “Two likely lads”—that was how an Old Country sergeant major described Leslie and Cecil Frost when he encountered them in France in 1917. He got it right. The wartime letters from these two remarkable brothers to their parents reveal thoughtful, decent, utterly unpretentious young men of character and quality going about their duty as they saw it. They reveal, too, the great promise they had for service to Canadian society in their postwar lives. Dr. Rae Fleming has rendered a valuable service by ensuring the survival and wide accessibility of the letters in print form and by his scholarly introduction to them and his many informative footnotes. The letters are important source material for students of Canadian history on several counts. They provide a clear and often telling picture of personalities, events, and conditions throughout the war years—in Canada, in Britain, and in France. They also provide snapshots of the evolving formation of the views and values of these two young men who would, in their later lives, have such an influence on shaping the public life of Ontario and of Canada. The letters convey very well something both of life on the home front in Canada during the titanic struggle “over there” and of the life of Canadian infantry soldiers who went to serve in France and Flanders and to train or recuperate in England. They depict a good deal of the essence of smalltown Ontario life in the age of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. They tell us much about the old province of Ontario and about its heritage and core values at the high tide of Empire in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Times and the complexion of the province have changed in so many ways. Yet much remains the same. Indeed, while these letters are from a faraway scene of appalling con- flict, perhaps the greatest insights they provide relate to the homeland of the authors. In personal terms, the letters provide a remarkable portrait of a closeknit family, a family that is deeply engaged with its community. More especially , they record a tale of extraordinary friendship and comradeship between the two brothers. As the tale unfolds through the war years, readers can xv xvi FOREWORD trace the events and conditions that laid the foundations for an unusual lifetime partnership and, ultimately, for the most notable and successful career in the public life of Ontario in the twentieth century. The letters contain an astonishing amount and variety of information. Letters that often begin with an apologetic phrase such as “I am afraid that I haven’t got much news tonight” will in the very next sentence report on a telling adventure (or misadventure) or that Harry Lauder “was down here tonight.” It is sometimes surprising what the censor let through. It is often not difficult to figure out from references in the correspondence where units were on the front and even what recent or projected troop movements might be involved. But, quite aside from the censor, there was an understandable reluctance to write about the battle. As Leslie notes (21 October 1917), “Mater says I do not say very much in my letters about what we do over here. Well, there is really very little to tell. If you follow the newspaper, you will know about where we are and as to experiences, any that I have, I just as soon talk about them when I get home and forget them when I am here.” The letters contain, at times, acknowledgement of low morale, along with some forthright discussion of the reasons for it. Both men make strong, constructively critical remarks about the military leadership, and at least one letter from Leslie (18 February 1917) is so bluntly critical that, in the wrong hands, it could have brought the wrath of the brass down upon his head. But the letters exude the deep and, for the most part, unspoken patriotism of the brothers and of their family, comrades, and community. This more often finds expression in their actions than in their words. Leslie was the first officer of the 157th Simcoes to revert in rank from Captain to Lieutenant in order to get to France: “Dad was mentioning about me reverting to get out here. Well I do miss my captaincy to a degree but I would rather be out here as a private doing my bit than...


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