How Letters Home came home

     Well then, here it is a New Year and some folks are just getting their first snows of the season – it always looks wondrous at first, doesn’t it?

     Then here is a little story for you to read as you look at the first snow and contemplate the winter months ahead. It is about the making of an iPad book.

Letters Home from the Great War 1916-1919 

The Origin of the Letters

     Can you imagine spending three winter seasons slogging through mud, snow, freezing rains and gunfire while living and sleeping in all manner of uncomfortable situations? As well as the Spring, Summer and Fall seasons of those years? That’s what my Father did as a young Canadian soldier in France, Belgium and then Germany during the Great War. That was in 1916-1919, one hundred years ago.

     During the whole time, he wrote home to his family every week.  His Mother kept all those letters. They have been a family treasure ever since. Fifty years later my sister Julie transcribed them from the originals. And then she did it again years later when she got a computer.

Our Story

     Starting in about 2008, my two sisters and I embarked on the task of creating a website to archive all of these. Anne scanned each of the more than 700 pages of the originals, I did the layout work of matching the scans to the typescript and then Julie proofed the whole thing again. We ended up with over 700 PDF pages which we set up on a website. That much process took us 18 months to complete.

     We had little way of knowing whether the site got much traffic and I kept thinking it might get more notice if I managed to get it into book form and put it up in iTunes with the rest of the music publications from Balquhidder Music.

     So I went through another arduous process of changing the format to accomplish that goal. It was finally uploaded in 2013 only to be told by Apple that because the format was all taken from PDFs only, that the text was unsearchable and therefore not a candidate for publication. Woof. Well, I was too exhausted with it by that time to consider changing it to suit.

Take Two (or Our Story Revisited)

     Three years later, in August of 2015, I decided, OK, what the heck – let me see if I can re-construct this and make it work. I had all of the JPGs of the original letters (thankfully still in the computer and accurately dated) and all of the PDF text that we had used in the first attempt.

     What I needed to do to make the text searchable was to select and copy each PDF text page, section by section and then paste them all into one long Word file. That would give the text the coding necessary to allow a search function to troll and find any word or phrase you asked for. Then followed the time-consuming laying out in iBooksAuthor text, pulling in the JPGs of the original letters to intersperse as a running narrative, and adding photographs from the time of the original era and photos of places spoken about in the text- in total 400 pages.

     The text selecting turned out to be very temperamental but at least it did work. Over the course of five months (August-December) I just kept gnawing away at it, fifteen minutes here, an hour there and so forth.

Now it was ready – and the text was searchable!


     The hard work was rewarded on January 8, 2016 when this latest version of the book was published in the iTunes Book Store as a Glen Lyon Books publication. In the Foreword there is a description of my Father’s family and his upbringing, as well as an Afterword which tells about the rest of his remarkable life. It’s sort of a mini-biography.

     You might think this has nothing to do with music. You’re right.   We have taken this project on as a tribute to what our Father went through years before we were ever to know him as a man. To us, these letters have a sort of magical quality that speaks across the century.

     You'll read about the ship voyage across the Atlantic, the training in England, being sent to France, seeing his first aeroplane, surviving the Spanish flu that killed 50 million people worldwide, the wonderful leave times in Scotland and Paris, the ways in which they entertained themselves and always sought to keep their families from worry…….and (we know it was coming – when he first learned that “the war is quit!”)

     More than seeing it in a two-hour movie and then driving home, you will begin to taste the life that people led 100 years ago – their hopes and expectations and their ability to endure long periods of sometimes grinding inactivity. Most of us in this age of instant electronic stimulation will consider this nigh impossible.  But it’s not. Read it slowly – you will find many a surprise and reason to pause for thought.

Where to buy this book

 Letters Home from the Great War (iBooks only - Not available in hard copy)

     So - we have no way of knowing how you might receive this narrative.  We’ve done what we set out to do. What does it mean to you? If you throw down the $12.99 to buy and read this book we hope that you will gain something worthwhile from it – probably in ways we would not anticipate. And even if you don’t buy it, know how much went into this labor of love by having read this much.

     If you do get it, please let us know what you came away with (besides a hole in your wallet). It’s always interesting to hear other people’s perception of something we think we know – and are broadened to hear other angles.

Snow bound?

I hope you don’t get snowed in this winter – wherever you are – but if you do, this book could be a warm companion.

It’s only 100 years old.

Best wishes to you for 2016!