Letters of Lieut. Raymond B. Penniman, Company A, Royal Canadian Regiment, 7th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division, BEF.
Penniman was just one of countless young men who fought in the Battle of the Somme. Born in Massachusetts in 1891, he lived in Providence, R.I. until his father Edwin moved the family to Ontario sometime before 1911. Raymond became a Canadian citizen in order to take a commission in the military, enlisting in 1914. He served as a Lieutenant in Company A of the Royal Canadian Regiment, 7th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division, British Expeditionary Force.
He was lost at the Somme, reported missing on October 8, 1916, in Regina Trench.
Penniman joined over a million other casualties of that conflict.These letters, photos and clippings were donated to the National WWI Museum and Memorial in 2013 by his relatives. They document the final months of his life, as well as his family’s struggle for answers in determining what happened to him.
Letter home - July 27, 1916
“Since I wrote you last I have had much honor thrust upon me. I have been decorated with the Military Cross and now wear a ribbon on ‘me chest.’ I have not actually had the Cross yet and probably will not for some time but the King has given authority for a Cross to be given to me. This was a surprise to me. You will be able to read later what it was given for. Everything seems to be coming my way so far during this war. What do you think? I am very much pleased indeed. It is very gratifying to have one’s work recognized.”
Postcard home addressed to his sister Myrtle
Photo postcard of Folkestone, England (west of Dover.) Date illegible.
Field Service Postcard sent home - September, 1916
“I am quite well. Letter follows at first opportunity.”
Letter home - September 28, 1916
“Probably you know where we are now [on the Somme]. We are seeing some real warfare and believe me it is hell. Today is the first fine day we have had and it is no joke sleeping in the open when it rains.Last time in the trenches I had command of the company and we made an attack. I went over the parapet with the men and the Lord only knows how I ever got back again. The artillery had not done its work and we caught hell. Cheer i O! It is all over for a while.”
Letters - October 4, 1916, Raymond Penniman to FamilyNational WWI Museum and Memorial
Letter home - October 4, 1916
“Rain, rain and more rain. More rain more mud more duds, as the Tommies say; all of which means that the rain will soften the earth to such an extent that the shells will not go off. A bad shell we call a dud. [...] We are trying to keep dry with a small piece of canvas and to say the most it is rotten. [...] The war still goes on with much gusto and fritz still goes luck [sic]. It will take time but we will get him. The weather may save his luck but from what I see weather will not hinder much. The other day we captured some marines. They must be short when they put their sailors into land battles. I would like to know what the Hun big bugs think. We know what their soldiers think. They are fed up with fighting and throw their hands up without a fight. My leave is coming soon and I am going to forget the war for a while.”
Letter home - October 4, 1916
This was his last letter home. Initially his father Edwin remained hopeful that his son was being held prisoner, reaching out to contacts in the Red Cross, the Masonic War Relief Association, and his son’s fellow soldiers in an effort to track down Lieut. Penniman, however, as time went on, news became more discouraging.
Telegram received by the Penniman family - October 15, 1916
“Sincerely regret to inform you Lieut Raymond B Penniman infantry officially reported missing Oct 8th 1916 will send further particulars when received.”
Letter from a school chum of Raymond’s, Sniper Stanley Rutledge, 28th Battalion, CEF to Raymond’s father - October 20, 1916
“Just to-night I learn that Ray is reported missing. Would that I could write something that might lift a little of the apprehension and sorrow that must assail Mrs. Penniman and yourself. I remember so well my last chat with Ray. We ran over old days at school. [...] The Battalion, to which I was attached, were lying on the plains near Albert when his [Raymond's] regiment moved up. This fight at the Somme has been terrific. Many, very many, of our best boys have ‘gone west,’ as we say. I am hoping that somehow or other Ray has managed to escape. Missing is a very elastic word in military parlance. Some days the gloom of so many casualties seems more than we can bear.”
Telegram sent by Penniman family - October 21, 1916
"We have a wire from the war office that Raymond was officially reported missing October eighth we firmly believe he will be reported later a prisoner so we are most hopeful please notify the folks down there and tell them not to lose hope will notify you when we get any Latin word and we are trying thru many channels to get news / Edwin G Penniman"
Letter from Royal Canadian Regiment HQ to Penniman's father - November 4, 1916
“I am forwarding your herewith a few letters belonging to your son Ray who you have already been informed has been missing since October 8th last. I very much regret that so far I have no tidings of him or his whereabouts; and can only express the hope that we hear something definite before long, when you will be immediately advised. - E. Guider, Lieutenant Adjt. RCR”
Note from German officials, in response to request for information on Lieut. Penniman - December 30, 1916
“Up to the present the subject has not been reported as prisoner or wounded. Berlin, Dec. 30, 1916. Graf von Schwerin, Major.”
Letter from the Masonic War Relief Association to Penniman's father - November 21, 1916
“I have seen the Canadian Red Cross Authorities, and am very sorry to have to tell you that up to the present time they have been unable to obtain more definite news in regard to your son, Lieutenant Raymond B. Penniman.”
Witness Reports, Havre, Royal Canadian Regiment, May 1, 1917
“He was in command of the 1st Platoon and acting O.C. of the Company on 8th October 1916. I saw him wounded at Regina Trench on the morning of 8th October at about 5.30 (breaking day); he was just going into the German line and fell from the parapet into the trench. I heard him give some orders and heard nothing further. We did not hold the trench but had to retire the same morning. The wounded were left behind.” - Pte. J.A. Dawson, 477230, Royal Canadian Regiment, A Co., 1st Platoon, Canadian Camp Harfleur.
“I last saw him about 8th October on the Somme at the taking of Regina Trench. He was lying on the ground, dead. Time, about 8.30 a.m. It was No mans land. We were relieved the same day, but do not know by whom. I recognized him clearly. He was in command of my platoon.” - Pte. J. Stevenson, 477881, A.L. No. 1, Canadian General Hospital.
Lieut. Penniman’s death certificate was finally issued on June 27, 1919, bearing the date of October 8, 1916.
A selection of the original letters were also included in the Museum’s 2016-2017 exhibition, "They Shall Not Pass | 1916," which shed light on the personal side of the conflicts at the Somme and Verdun.
All documents from the archives of the National WWI Museum and Memorial.
The primary focus of the National WWI Museum and Memorial located in Kansas City, Mo. is to honor the memory and sacrifices of all those who served their country and defended liberty during World War I. Additionally, the Museum puts into context the consequences of World War I and how they impact the world we live in today.
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