Y.A. Bennett, ed., Kiss the Kids for Dad, Don’t Forget to Write: The Wartime Letters of George Timmins, 1916-1918 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009). 208 pages.
Reviewed by Courtney Penney (St John’s, NL)
In Y.A. Bennett’s Kiss the Kids for Dad, Don’t Forget to Write: The Wartime Letters of George Timmins, 1916-1918, readers get a glimpse of what soldiers’ lives were like in the front lines during the First World War through the letters of Private George Timmins to his wife May. At thirty-three years of age, Timmins joined the 116th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and fought in battles such as Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and Amiens. While the scholarship on the Western Front is extensive, Bennett notes that Timmins’ letters give readers an idea of what life was like for soldiers’ wives and children, an area of history that has not been adequately examined.
Bennett opens her book with a detailed introduction to the family, and then categorizes the war letters into six sections. In each section, several themes emerge. First and foremost, readers gain a sense of how much Timmins missed his family. In nearly every letter, he is concerned about his three children and asks about his wife’s health. He clearly articulated that May’s only concern should be the family and insists that she not work outside the home. Another concept that is evident is Timmins’ dependence on his wife for his well-being. In 1916, Timmins asks his wife to send him mitts. But as the war continues, he no longer makes such requests. While Timmins receives letters and packages from his friends and family, it is May’s letters that he looks forward to receiving, noting that he was a “bad tempered piece of humanity” when he did not receive letters from his wife (p. 87).
In this compilation of war letters, Bennett uses a plethora of primary sources, such as photographs of Timmins’ family, newspapers, and archival material, as well as secondary sources. In each section, Bennett thoroughly footnotes and meticulously identifies Timmins’ friends and family as well as soldiers who fought with him. However, Bennett’s work would have been improved by incorporating a conclusion. Instead she ends the book with an Epilogue, which contains three letters written by Timmins in the 1960s and 1970s to his grandchildren. As a result, readers are left with numerous questions about Timmins. What happened to him after the war? What happened to his wife and children?
Bennett’s work is an important contribution to the historiography of family life in Canada during the First World War. Her book not only gives a voice to the unknown solider, but also aids in giving a voice to the unknown soldier’s wife and children.