Skip to content

Love letters from Second World War found in Innisfil home make their way back to family

Former Alcona resident looking to personally thank the owners of her old childhood home who kept the love letters written by her parents during the Second World War

Recently, Barrie resident Eleanor McCue acquired two love letters written by her father to her mother while posted in Europe during the Second World War. These were in addition to nine letters she already had received from an old neighbour many years ago. 

McCue's father was Private Erle Grant Shepherd, who was part of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. and served in the war from 1942-1946. 

Erle was originally stationed in England before being drafted over to Holland and Italy. He was one of 14 kids, born in Toronto.

In 1941, at 20-years-old, he married the love of his life, 18-year-old Joan.

The following year, Erle was sent overseas to fight for his country, leaving behind his newly pregnant wife. Erle wouldn't get to meet their firstborn son until he returned from the war in 1946 when he was already two and a half years old. 

Each letter Erle wrote was always addressed to 'My Darling Joan', expressing how much he loved and missed her, and couldn't wait to return home. He also wrote about little details while being away like how much he appreciated having a clean blanket or warm bath at night. 

Among the pile of letters were also three that Joan had sent to Erle. Joan had been living with her sister while Erle fought overseas. 

When Erle returned from the war, the couple picked right up where they left off and bought a home on Dunfield Avenue in Toronto, near Yonge and Eglinton. 

A friend of theirs had moved up to Alcona Beach, and they soon followed, settling with their family in a house on Roberts Road, halfway between the 8th and 9th off 25th Sideroad, in 1954. 

"At that time there were just three families (living on the street)," explained McCue. 

The couple had four children of their own, including McCue, and six fosters. 

"Five (children) in each bedroom," laughed McCue. "It was a handful for my mom, that's for sure."

While Erle worked as a bread man, Joan stayed home and looked after the children. 

"As the years went by my dad wouldn't talk much about the war, my mother hated the war," said McCue. "There wasn't much help offered for them for the things that they saw back in those days."

It was in 1966 when the family was forced to vacate their home in Alcona abruptly and relocate to downtown Barrie. 

"I knew my mom said back to me in the 60s, that she wasn't able to get anything out of the attic, there just wasn't enough time," said McCue. 

Many personal items had been left behind in the move, including the love letters from the war. It wasn't until years later the letters would incidentally make their way back to the family. 

Randomly in 1994, one of the old neighbours from Roberts Road spotted McCue's sister at a community centre in Toronto, who told her his daughter had some of her father's letters that she may want to have. 

His daughter Donna connected with McCue and her sister to give them the love letters that had been left behind in the attic of their old home. 

How Donna ended up with the box was a fluke. 

Donna had purchased the box of letters from an auction in Barrie, after noticing one of the letters had a European stamp in it. Donna's stepchildren were avid stamp collectors, so Donna agreed to purchase the entire box of letters for their stamp collection. 

"I'd love to find out who bought the house and took it over and kept these letters," she said. 

The original Shepherd family home on Roberts Road burned down in the '70s, and another was rebuilt in the same location. The owner of the home had purposefully kept the letters, knowing they must have been special.    

McCue is grateful to the person who kept the letters for all those years and would love to be able to connect with the former owners of her childhood home to personally thank them. 

"There just aren't any words," she said about her appreciation for the letters. "I'd love to find out and thank the person that kept them, you would think somebody would just toss them."

McCue now lives in Barrie and has three adult sons. 

Joan passed away suddenly in 1975 at the age of 52. Erle went on to live with McCue and her family for 14 years before passing away from cancer. 

"He was a very gentle, gentle, man, my kids just adored him," said McCue.

McCue says her father was known well by the neighbours in the Alcona area knew him for his red truck, which he would drive all the time. 

"It's really too bad that neither one of them (her parents) knew (that they got the letters back)," said McCue. 

McCue has the letters kept in a special plastic film to help preserve them and is hoping to connect with the Barrie museum for safekeeping. 

"I am even surprised they are so legible," she said. 

Before he passed, Earle gave one of his grandsons seven of the medals he had received from the war. The family has since had them all framed, along with his photo, number, and two poppies on each side, as a special family memento.  

The poppies are significant for Remembrance Day and remind the family of Erle's sacrifice. They are also special because 'Poppy' is what all of Earle's nine grandchildren called him. 

"It turned out really beautifully," said McCue. 

If you are able to help McCue solve the mystery as to who kept her parents letters for all those years in Alcona, you can contact her directly at [email protected]

Reader Feedback

Natasha Philpott

About the Author: Natasha Philpott

Natasha is the Editor for BradfordToday and InnisfilToday. She graduated from the Media Studies program at The University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in Bradford with her husband, two boys and two cats.
Read more