Soldier’s letter tells of gassing, accepting ‘ultimate sacrifice’ during First World War

Joan Scroggs has letters from her great uncle’s collection

When William Boldt died on Oct. 1, 1918, fighting in the First World War, he was American.

He had already survived being gassed when he died in battle during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, 42 days before the Armistice.

Boldt was originally buried in France but his body was exhumed a few years later and reburied in the famous Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. Despite being there, his story lives here, in Saanich, where his grand niece Joan Scroggs maintains an archive of letters, photos and documents her grandmother, Boldt’s sister, put together and gave to Scroggs 55 years ago. She now keeps them in her home at Ten Mile Point.

On Monday, Scroggs read an excerpt from a letter Boldt had written to his sister before a full crowd at the Veterans Memorial Lodge at Broadmead for an early Remembrance Day memorial commemorating the Armistice centennial.

She chose a letter about Boldt experiencing gas poisoning for its insight into war, she said.

“I thought it was interesting that he talked about the gassing, what it felt like, and the total blindness that all the guys apparently felt. Once you were gassed, instantly you were totally blind… til the nerve endings healed. They also broke out in sores, it was just horrendous,” Scroggs said.

(Inset photo: William Boldt in uniform, circa 1918.)

The letter she read aloud was written by Boldt from the American Red Cross Hospital letter on June 11, 1918.

“My dear sister… don’t be alarmed at the heading of the letter [from the hospital]. It’s nothing serious now. I only got a slight gassing. I’ll soon be back in duty and I’m going after the fellow who gassed me.

“I look back at everything that happened, it didn’t seem real. The roar of the guns, the flying steel, and the air turning poisonous. I wore my mask for 15 hours but had to take it off for a couple minutes. I felt a pain in my eye and then a total blindness.

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“I suppose you know what’s going on over here. We’re giving them hell and showing them that we’re made of the right stuff.

“Dear Father and Sister, if I should make the sacrifice don’t worry your lives away for we are all going to cash out sometime.

“I certainly will be proud to check in. I don’t expect to stay over here forever …”

Rear-Admiral J.R. Auchterlonie, the former commander of the Canadian Pacific Fleet, spoke at the memorial with music from the Naden Band’s Prevailing Winds Woodwind Quintet.

“My Granny lived on a farm in Russell, Manitoba, and there’s evidence that Boldt had been there helping in 1917, the year before he went to war,” Scroggs said.

Boldt wasn’t married so his pension went to Scroggs’ grandmother, which was helpful as Scroggs grandfather died from appendicitis in 1917.

Scroggs was joined by her eldest cousin, the oldest of her generation, as well as her brother, granddaughter and great niece, all from William Boldt’s family.


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