A month ago, Robert Treverton of Madoc, Ont., was doing some restoration work on an old desk that he salvaged from a work site about 20 years ago, when a letter fell out.
"I thought it was just a letter, or maybe a bill that had been stuffed in there...then as I opened it up, I read it and I realized that it was a letter that was written from a soldier," Treverton told CBC News in a recent interview.
Opening up the letter, Treverton became privy to the story of a young man writing a thank-you letter for a care package he received in the Christmas season during the Second World War.
The letter is dated Dec. 29, 1943 and is written by a soldier identified only as Pte. T.H. Roberts.
Sent via air mail, it’s addressed to a Mr. and Mrs. J. Boothe who then lived on Mortimer Avenue in Toronto.
In the letter Roberts describes living in a camp with other soldiers, playing cards and eating the kind of food that one would only eat under wartime conditions.
"About the worst things we get to eat are wartime bread and mutton," Roberts says in the letter he sent to the Boothes.
"It’s not lamb over here, just plain mutton and I don’t think I’ll ever look a sheep in the face again with anything but hatred in my heart and a strong desire to climb the fence and kick the stuffing out of it."
While Roberts reveals that the soldiers in the camp went against orders and enjoyed "a regular old time dinner with all the trimming" for Christmas, he expresses his sincere appreciation for the package that he was sent for the holidays.
"I just can’t express how much I appreciate what you have done and the happiness you have brought into my very lonely life here and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart," Roberts says in the letter.
Roberts says the package and its contents arrived at the camp undamaged and was full of "things I can't possibly buy over here."
Signing off as "Tom," Roberts urged that the Boothes write him back, pledging that he would be writing them again.
'Harsh times' of war
For Treverton, the letter is a window to a world that he can only imagine, describing the "harsh times" of war that not only put soldiers’ lives on hold, but also tore them away from their families.
Yet despite the hardships, Treverton said the letter reveals that the soldiers "were still hanging in there and they were striving forth, looking forward to getting back home."
Treverton’s wife and children have also read the letter, which was also shared with students at St. Mary Catholic School in Shannonville, Ont., about 50 kilometres south of Madoc.
Teacher Patricia Craig said being able to read the letter to her students gave them an understanding that soldiers were real people who led real lives.
"I think that they picked up on the human nature of it. I think that they see it as a person, it could be one of their neighbours that have gone over, so that they're able to really relate to that," she told CBC News in a recent interview.
"When you think of a person in a uniform, they are untouchable. This is somebody that could have been somebody they knew, just writing home."
Treverton had hoped to return the letter to the soldier who wrote it, but CBC News has learned that Roberts died at the age of 85 in 1999.
However, the soldier’s surviving daughter is still living in the Greater Toronto Area and Treverton was able to bring the letter to her.
Toronto Local News on CBC-TV will show viewers what happened when Roberts’s daughter was brought a piece of the past, starting at 5 p.m. on Friday.
The letter and a transcript of its contents can be viewed below.