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Sunday, April 25, 2021

A letter returns to Kerrville -- over 100 years after it was mailed

Elizabeth Baker wrote her son the day she learned
World War I was over -- though he never saw the letter.
Click on any image to enlarge.

This week I received two boxes of Kerr County historical items from a kind woman in Lubbock. Mostly the boxes contained old war-time letters from over 100 years ago.
One of the letters was especially poignant, from a mother to her son during World War I. Written in a clear hand on now-yellowed paper, the letter was dated November 11, 1918, the day the ‘War to End All Wars’ was finally over; a second sheet in the envelope is dated the next day, November 12th, an addendum to the other page. The envelope is postmarked November 12, 1918. 
The mother’s name was Elizabeth Baker; her soldier son was named Sidney Baker. When she wrote the letter she did not know Sidney Baker had been killed in battle on October 15, 1918, only a few weeks before the end of the war. She received a telegram on November 13th informing her of Sidney Baker’s death. By then, though, her letter was already in the mail.
“Kerrville, November 11th” she writes.
Sidney Baker, 1917
“Mr Walter Sidney Baker, Dear Son, I write to you to let you know we have received the news we have peace and I never was as happy in my life. Oh if I could just be with you all to rejoice, but have the pleasure of thinking you won’t be killed now, and unless you sicken and die, you will be home in honors some day.”
Her concern was valid: the world was in the midst of an influenza pandemic, and many of her letters to Sidney included the news of a local person passing away from the Spanish Flu.
“I was woke up this morning at 5 o’clock by the ringing of the school bells and then the fire bells and then the shooting of guns and blowing the train whistle and it has been going on all day and crowded auto parading the streets with flying flags and ringing cow bells. Oh I wish you all could see but no doubt you are seeing a great deal more.
“Mr. Taylor and Mr. Tarver and Schwethelm and another old gentleman I did not know came down and congratulated me over my boys and had whiskey and wine and had me to drink with them over our victory. God bless you all. You don’t know how I feel now when I look at your pictures….”
The Baker Brothers in uniform:
Sidney, Leroy, Claude, Frank and Iva Baker
The other sheet in the envelope begins “Nov 12th, well as I did not get to mail my letter yesterday, will write more.”
She relates news about Sidney’s brothers, ‘Fat,’ and Claude: “I feel sorry for [them]…all they hate is they never got go across [to France]…I guess you have the honor of being the only one out of the 5 that got to be in Battle.”
Her son Sidney never saw the letter.
Five of Elizabeth Baker’s sons were in the Army during World War I: Sidney, Leroy, Claude, Frank, and Iva. She and her husband, B. F. Baker, had 12 children.
So far I’ve found three letters in the boxes which Elizabeth Baker wrote her son after his death, without knowing he’d died in mid-October. Each contains touching concerns over Sidney’s health and safety, and news of folks from home.
In the boxes I’ve also found what might be the last letter Sidney wrote his mother. It is dated September 7, 1918, from “Somewhere in France.”
Elizabeth Baker, 1931,
visiting Sidney's grave
“Dear Mother, I guess you think I’m not going to write anymore but this is the first time I have had time to write. ‘Lump’ [Sidney’s brother, Iva Baker] and I have been separated and I don’t know where he is, but I know he is farther away from the front than I am. I guess I will be up to the hunting ground in a few days….
“This sure is some country. You can walk all day and never get any place. I haven’t saw a girl that could talk the English language since I’ve been over here….
“Don’t worry about me at all for I’m doing fine. Now you may not hear from me very often but if anything goes wrong you will be notified at once.
“You write to Sister for me and tell her I’m alright and that I will eat X-mas dinner with her….
“Tell all of the boys hello for me and write as often as you can. With lots of love….”
Sidney Baker was killed October 15, 1918, during the bloody fighting near Hill 288 in the Argonne. He is buried in France. Years after the war, Elizabeth Baker went to France to visit her son’s grave.
I’m grateful to the kind woman in Lubbock who shared these priceless artifacts with all of us.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerr County historical items. If you have an item you’d care to share with him, please let him know. It will make him very happy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 24, 2021

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  1. Well. That surely made me tear up! Left a big lump in the throat. Thank you for sharing

  2. My grandfather served with the US Army 4th Infantry during WW1 and was wounded in combat at the 2nd Battle of the Marne on 4 Aug 1918. He had no parents or siblings, but at least he came back. Thanks for sharing this story about the Baker family.

  3. Thank you for sharing this touching story! Keep up your great work, Mr. Herring. This week I have enjoyed walking at Louise Hays Park. Kerrville is a place I visited as a child. Memories of my mother, Grandmother and her sister are very special part of my heart. So very grateful to read your historical findings!


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