Dear Bessie

A Wartime Love Story

By Canadian Centre for the Great War

Canadian Centre for the Great War

Bessie Atkinson, Wadena, Saskatchewan. (1914/1917) by Loan of Shirley Bailey and Joyce Bradford.Canadian Centre for the Great War

When Harry met Bessie

Harry William White was an English immigrant farming near Wadena, Saskatchewan in 1915 when he met Bessie Atkinson, the daughter of an American music teacher and farmer. Bessie was 19 and writing her teacher's qualification exams, Harry was 34.

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - When Harry met Bessie". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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Bessie refused Harry’s proposal, and though it was difficult for him to maintain his composure, he continued to write her, speaking of their common experiences and friends.

"Remember the Lusitania. Enlist today", United Kingdom, lithograph on wove paper. (1915) by The Parliamentary Recruiting CommitteeCanadian Centre for the Great War

The shadow of war

Like many Canadians, Harry White was shocked by the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Lusitania by a German submarine. He decided to enlist along with Bessie's older brother, Frances.

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - The shadow of war" Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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“Remember the Lusitania. Enlist today”, United Kingdom, lithograph on wove paper. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-1323.

"Men of the 15th Platoon, 65th Battalion CEF", Brock Silversides fonds, series 8.4. by University of Saskatchewan Archives & Special Collections, MG 289-8.4Canadian Centre for the Great War

An enlisted man

Harry and Frank enlisted with the 65th Battalion and travelling to Saskatoon, where they trained at the Exhibition Grounds. While training, Harry decides to try proposing to Bessie again.

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - An enlisted man". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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University of Saskatchewan Archives & Special Collections, MG 289 - Brock Silversides fonds, series 8.4, "Men of the 15th Platoon, 65th Battalion CEF"

"Canadian Pacific Steamship Lines, RMS Empress of Britain & Empress of Ireland", postcard. (1906)Canadian Centre for the Great War

A long day's journey into night

After months of training, the 65th Battalion was finally sent to England in the spring of 1916. Like thousands of others, Harry and Frank's journey began by rail to Montreal, where they boarded a troopship bound for Europe.

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - A long day’s journey into night". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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‘Canadian Pacific Steamship Lines, RMS Empress of Britain & Empress of Ireland”, c1906, postcard.

72nd Bn. Returning to camp after a route march. May 1918 (1918-05)Canadian Centre for the Great War

The 65th is no more

Upon its arrival in England, the 65th Battalion was broken up for reinforcements to the battalions already on the frontlines. In order to stay together, Harry and Frank chose to accept a transfer to the 72nd Battalion, a Highland unit.

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - The 65th is no more". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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“72nd Bn. Returning to camp after a route march. May 1918.” Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada.

Views of the YMCA at Bramshott Camp, 1914-1919. (1914/1919) by Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives CanadaCanadian Centre for the Great War

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - The 65th is no more". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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“Views of the YMCA at Bramshott Camp, 1914-1919.” Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada.

Paul Nash, "Wire", mixed media on paper, 1918-1919. by Courtesy IWM (Art.IWM ART 2705)Canadian Centre for the Great War

France

In early August 1916, Harry and Frank, along with the rest of the reinforcement draft for the 72nd Battalion, were transported to France where they began their first weeks in the trenches.  Image: Paul Nash, “Wire”, mixed media on paper, 1918-1919.Courtesy IWM (Art.IWM ART 2705)

"British infantry entraining at Le Havre for the journey towards the front line, March 1915" by Courtesy IWM, (IWM Q 60501)Canadian Centre for the Great War

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - France". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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“British infantry entraining at Le Harve for the journey towards the front line, March 1915.”, Courtesy IWM, (IWM Q 60501).

Paul Nash, "Wire", mixed media on paper, 1918-1919. by Courtesy IWM (Art.IWM ART 2705)Canadian Centre for the Great War

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - France". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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Paul Nash, “Wire”, mixed media on paper, 1918-1919.Courtesy IWM (Art.IWM ART 2705)

"Scout patrol 20th Battalion. Mericourt Front France 1917", watercolour on paper, 1917 by Collections CCGW/CCGG 2013.12.06.01Canadian Centre for the Great War

Raiding

The Canadians spent the winter before the Battle of Vimy Ridge raiding the German lines. On March 1, 1917, the 4th Division, including the 72nd Battalion, staged their largest raid yet. Frances Atkinson was killed during the raid, and his body never recovered.

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - Raiding". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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Ruben Jukes [Juksch],“Scout patrol 20th Battalion. Mericourt Front France 1917.”, watercolour on paper, 1917. Collections CCGW/CCGG 2013.12.06.01

Battle of Vimy Ridge. 1917. Canadians advancing. German prisoners carrying our wounded. [ASE label] (1917-04) by The Raines Company of CanadaCanadian Centre for the Great War

Vimy

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was begun on April 9, 1917, Easter Monday. The 4th Division was tasked with taking Hill 145 a smaller hill on the left of the main Vimy assault, and struggled throughout the day to make their objective. Harry White died of wounds sustained during the battle for Hill 145 on April 10, 1917. Hill 145 was taken on April 10 and the Pimple, the final Vimy objective, on April 12.

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - Vimy". Read by Daniel Watchorn.
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‘’Battle of Vimy Ridge 1917. Canadians advancing – German prisoners carrying out the wounded.” Alfred Soden English Fonds, Collections CCGW/CCGG.

"Harry White Killed on French Front, April 10" [unknown, c1917]. by Loan of Caitlin BaileyCanadian Centre for the Great War

Excerpt from "Dear Bessie - Vimy". Read by Melissa Castron
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[Harry White] Norman Lang, 65th Overseas Battalion (Saskatoon Daily Star Job Dept. .1916), 12 Rare D 547 C2 65th, Hartland Molson Library, Canadian War Museum

Credits: Story

Design A.Chan
Radio play written by C.Bailey, produced by A. Chan
Harry voiced by D. Watchorn
Bessie voiced by M. Castron

The Canadian Centre for the Great War would like to thank Library and Archives Canada, The Canadian War Museum and the Imperial War Museum for access and use of their collections.

This exhibition is in memory of L/Cpl Harry White and Bessie Atkinson.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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