P.E.I. woman finds hundreds of wartime letters from great-grandparents

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P.E.I. woman finds hundreds of wartime letters from great-grandparents

Paige Rankin from Summerside, P.E.I., sits on the couch beside her grandfather Jim Peters, leafing through hundreds of letters neatly arranged in a wooden box on their laps. 

"I can't imagine being 21 and having a husband at war, waiting for him to come home and writing letters every day," said 22-year-old Rankin, who was lucky enough to know both of her great-grandparents, George and Inez Peters. 

The couple lived just around the corner from Rankin growing up, she recalls — George died when she was 11 years old, then Inez died three years ago.

Even as a child, Rankin knew her great-grandparents were in love.

"They both had their rocking chairs that they sat in and they would always be holding hands. I could tell they were very much in love right until the end." 

'In love right until the end'

In 2008, George Peters died at 97 and in 2015, Inez passed away at 99. 

The family had to empty out the house to sell it — that's when they found a big box of letters in a closet.

"When I first found them, it wasn't that big a deal," said Paige's grandfather Jim Peters — until he started reading his father's letters to his mother, all written over four years they were apart during the Second World War.

George had been a dispatcher with the army in England, driving a motorcycle and delivering messages from one unit to another.

"Every letter was censored before it was sent out," said Jim. "He wasn't really allowed to talk too much about what he was doing, where he was."

The letters didn't stop even when George was hospitalized for a year after crashing his motorcycle to avoid a pedestrian.

'Brought tears to my eyes'

One letter talked about the conditions in the hospital.

"To use his description, 'It was just filthy,'" recalls Jim. "And there were so many flies around, he actually had to hold a sheet over his head during the day until the flies settled down at night."

One of Rankin's favourite letters was also one from her great-grandfather's time in hospital.

"He wrote how much he was missing her and he wished he could be home, curled up in bed with her and that he couldn't wait for this to be over," Rankin said.

"It really brought tears to my eyes, just because I can't imagine being in a hospital for almost a year trying to pass the time and writing letters." 

The family believes Inez wrote back to George every single day — but the family doesn't have those letters. 

"He would have received them over there and wouldn't be carrying them around," said Jim. However in his letters George often responded to his wife's latest news from home.

"Somebody would be falling in love with somebody," said Jim. "Those kinds of family drama and all kinds of stuff like that." 

'You feel their love' 

It's easy for Rankin to read those letters and imagine being in her great-grandmother's shoes.

"You feel their love for each other and you can't imagine missing someone that much. It just makes you feel very lucky that we aren't going through something like that."

As Paige and Jim read through the letters, a tattoo on her forearm peeks from beneath a sleeve — hand written, it says "Hello Honey."

"Whenever my great-grandmother passed, I planned on getting a tattoo of just 'Honey', because that was kind of their nickname for each other," explained Rankin. 

'More special to have it in his writing'

But when Rankin started reading the letters, she noticed each started the same way — "Hello Honey."

She already had her appointment booked to get inked, so Rankin grabbed one of her great-grandfather's letters and had the artist copy his opening line.

"It just seems more special to have it in his writing," she said.

The tattoo has become a conversation piece, including at work.

"They all ask about my tattoo and a lot of them say, 'Well you must have high expectations for love,' and I guess that could be true," Paige said.

"Who writes a letter every day for somebody now? I think it's like the greatest love story."

"We're so lucky today with technology that it's so easy to still see each other's face or have a phone call, so I can't imagine going four years with only letters," said Rankin.

'Passed down for generations'

Jim Peters has since sorted all the letters by date. Both he and his granddaughter want to see the letters stay in the family rather than go to a museum. 

"I think they're pretty special and historic, but I wouldn't want to see them go too far," Rankin said.

"I think they'll be passed around [in our family] and passed down for generations."

While Rankin has "Hello Honey" on her arm, she likely doesn't have room for George's usual signoff to his sweetheart.

 "Every letter he usually ends with 'Good night and barrels of love and kisses and all for you,' and I think that's so sweet." 

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