Personal Memoirs: The Wartime Letters of Kenneth Broten of Dacotah
by Janet Fossay Peterson
Twenty-year-old Kenneth Broten, son of Henry and Florence Broten of Dacotah, and brother to Vernon, Warren and Shirley, enlisted in the Canadian Army in February 1943. He was a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, went overseas in September 1943, and was with the troops that landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on D Day.
Handed down through his family are a small packet of letters written by Kenneth to people back home in Canada. Bound with a blue ribbon are nine airmail letters to his aunt, Anna Fossay, and inside a tattered brown envelope are letters addressed to his mother. Handed back down to a family member are another six letters addressed to Mrs. William Hanke, a close friend, and to his cousin Trevellyan Piper.
It is through these letters that we understand Kenneth's loss of innocence, his living conditions, and his suffering. The letters contain no statistics or schemes, just words describing moments of despair, his homesickness, his hopes, and his frustration. Even though the war was filled with chaos, destruction and death, he fails to dwell on this. Perhaps his letter writing was his escape from the death and destruction he was witnessing.
In the span of one year he described how his original unit had been split up, to losing some of his unit when “they froze to death,” to “ all the boys that I used to know are nearly all gone,” to “all I do now is fight to keep alive.” Kenneth has gone from wanting to “see a dog fight between two planes,” to “wading around in water up to his neck,” and although it was cold, “it was the only place where the lead wasn’t flying so much.” In his first letter he wrote of his curiosity to see an air raid, “to see them hit and see what they do when they do hit,” and then ten months later wrote, “I am getting mighty sick of this fighting for your life all the time,” and “standing in some dirty old shit trench.” He struggled to keep warm and to get enough to eat. He slept on the cold ground, in wet trenches, in dust-filled tents, and in a little shack “just round enough for four men to sleep on the floor with no stove in it. We went to bed with all our clothes on and a leather jacket and our great coat, then five blankets and still it was cold.” He fought regardless of illness, injuries, aches and pains. He trudged through mud, snow, slush and water carrying gear weighing roughly 80 pounds. Over a period of fourteen month, Kenneth was promoted from private to corporal to sergeant but, as he explains, “promotions come fast in this game.” Unfortunately, this was not a game. He wrote, “The grub we get isn’t too much and none too good,” which probably explains why he appreciated any parcels from home. He hungered for news from Dacotah to hear about the weather, the crops, the Christmas dinners, and of course, the girls. He was young and inexperienced, thrown into a war where the enormity of it was beyond his comprehension.
These are Kenneth's letters, in chronological order. Sometimes you will laugh, cheer and cry with him, but mostly you will wish the ending could have turned out differently.
Thursday, 2 December 1943
Dear Aunt Anna and family,
I received the parcel you sent me today, thanks ever so much for it. A parcel sure is a welcome thing around here. The grub we get isn’t too much and none to good, so I’ll be able to feast for a while now. The weather isn’t to bad right now theres no snow on the ground anyway like there is in Canada about now. It rains nearly every day though. But it seems just like fall weather, it don’t seem like so close to Christmas as it is. I suppose there is quite a bit of snow there by now. I haven’t had a letter for about three weeks so I haven’t got all the gossip. I’ll miss the big dinners I used to get around Christmas and New Years this year. But I hope to be back by next Christmas! I hope. But I guess I’ll have to get used to it. The country here isn’t bad but they can give me good old Canada any day. I just want to cross the ocean once more and that’s going back and I hope its soon. When you go out here at night you have to start about six o’clock at night because everything closes down between ten and ten thirty that just when we get going back home. The girls around I wouldn’t give a dime a dozen for them. But up in Scotland where I was on my nine days leave I saw lots of pretty girls. The Scots are a whole lot nicer people then the English I think. The only trouble is we move about every three weeks or so. We are moving again pretty soon to an island some place and we have only been here for about two weeks. We never settle down always on the move that’s us. I am batman for an officer right now and I do everything from washing clothes to so on buttons. I’ll make somebody a good wife some day. Its better than marching on the parade square every day. You can tell Bud the beer over here is terrible the whiskey is good but it costs to much money and they dance all together different than we do, also that George Lavaley is in the same company as I am. I sure was surprised to see him here, I haven’t seen any to the other boys that are over here, wish I knew where they were stationed. The country over here is so small a cooped up person can hardly turn around it just seems like one big town. One of these weeks and I’m going to London and look the place over. I’ve been through there twice at night but didn’t see much but the station. The people around there must have been real prosperous last fall. I hear some must have been taking trips and a whole bunch of weddings, things must be but good. Tell Buddy not to get married till I get home so I can be there for the wedding. The boys I took my training with in Canada have all been split up, theres only about six in this unit right now. But I don’t take long to make new friends here. They have no stoves in this country all fire places and half the time we freeze because the coal is very poor stuff. What looks funny is to see about a dozen chimneys on one house. I sure will be glad to see a wooden house when I get back they are all made the same here and all out of brick. Well I better close as it’s the end of the paper. Wishing you and all the family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Loads of love,
Monday, 21 February 1944
Dear Aunt Anna and Family,
Well here goes a few lines to thank you for the nice parcel I received from you yesterday. I just came back from a nine day leave in Scotland. Thank you ever so much for it the peaches sure tasted good. About the best thing I tasted since I left Canada I think. They were delicious and no kidding they were swell. I had a pretty good leave all in all but still it isn’t like going home for a leave and I hope the war is over when I get my next one. The only thing was in Glasgow it rains nearly every day in the winter time and they had their share while we were there, I think it only missed one day. A person is lost on leave when he has no place to go. I would just as soon be back in camp the only thing is a person can’t sleep in the mornings. The training is getting a little tougher these days. They give us half an hour*** before breakfast now whish isn’t so nice I am usually still half asleep a half an hour after I wake up. So I guess we must be going places pretty soon. I did have a bed for a week before I went on leave but some other guy has go it now so I have to sleep in the floor again. I could sleep any place now. Right now I am getting pretty sleepy but I have to stay awake as I am night fireman so I guess I’ll catch up on all my letter writing to night. When I went through London on my leave they had an air raid one of the biggest in a long time I could hear the booms dropping and the ground shake but it was quit aways away for the station good thing they didn’t hit the station or we might have had some excitement. One of our boys in the outfit was close by when they were dropping the eggs and he got a hunk of something right over his eye a little lower and he would have lose his eye. But it was his first time in a raid and he was curious to see what was going on just like I would have been if I had been closer. I would of like to see them hit to and see what they do when they do hit. What I would like to see is a dog fight between to planes, but I guess that day will come soon enough. I know where the Rassmussen brothers are stationed now to. I would like to see them but its so darn hard to get off the island. They are only about sixty miles for her I sure would like to see them again. I herd Harold R. has go a stripe now good for him, hes a lucky guy when he can stay on that side of the pond. I suppose you are right in the middle of your curling season right now or isn’t curling such a big thing anymore. I here you have had a pretty nice winter I would miss one of the good ones when there isn’t much snow. But such is life. Does Harold go to school or had he quit for good. I suppose he kind of misses Vernon to pal around with or has he got some little girl on the string. I guess Vernon is having quite a time in the bush. Well all I can say is I wish I was with him. I wouldn’t mind the army so much if I was in something I liked to do, but I never was one for walking very far or being made a pack horse of. But I hope to live through it and the sooner the war ends the happier I’ll be. Well I better close as I am coming to the end of the paper. Thanks a million again for the parcel. Oh yes thank the ladies of the church for the testament they sent me a while back. Take care of yourself.
Yours as always love,
Letter by Kenneth Broten to his aunt, Mrs. A. B. Fossay, 21 February 1944.
Thursday, 2 March 1944
Dear Aunt Anna,
Received your letter to-day the first ones for a month or so. I got nine letters yesterday and two to-day. The letters come in bunches it was all surface mail. I guess I have all the latest gossip now. The weather sure has been cold the last month or so, but it seems to be warming up a bit now. I was on guard last night on top of a hill and many froze to death. So I had all day off to-day and have been writing letter all day didn’t go to sleep at all to-day. We just had a little shack to sleep in, just round enough for four men to sleep on the floor, with no stove in it. We went to bed with all our clothes on and a leather jacket and our great coat, then five blankets and still it was cold. I have a bad cold now and was in bed one day this week, last night I got a cold in my back and now my back aches so I don’t feel very good to-nite. I hope it stays warm as we are going on a ten day scheme or more. So I have to get all my letters answered to-nite and to-morrow. I here the boys didn’t do so good in the bonspiel in Winnipeg this winter. I guess they need some more practice or something like that. We were inspected by the commandor and chief of the Canadian forces overseas the other day. He wasn’t much to see all we did was freeze. By the way he spoke we will be in this war pretty soon. I think I got your last parcel around my birthday if I remember right its been quite along time. Thanks ever so much they sure were swell. When I get parcels they usually come in two and threes. I hear you are on a pretty good curling team this winter. About a quarter of the boys in our company are in the hospital with colds or with swollen tonsils or something of the like. I wouldn’t mind going to the hospital for a couple of days now so I would miss this scheme that is coming off. As long as its not to cold it will be all right and not to much walking. Quite a few of the boys have getting their calls lately eh well if they know whats good for them they will go in the reserves. I think is a lot better over there then it is over here. I guess you have had a very nice winter so far over there eh. Is there very much snow over there yet. I suppose it will be pretty cold now seeing as how March is usually the coldest month of the year. Irvin Rice is pretty lucky to get out of the army for another six months wish I was with him. I wish they would do something pretty soon so we no where we stand. So we’ll no if we’ll be alive or dead or something like that. Doing the same thing over and over again gets might tiresome. Most of the time all we do is kill time nothing new just the old stuff over and over again. I have lots of smokes now. I have had three thousand from Mom and Dad, three hundred from Dutch and Red, three hundred form Valetta Qually so I have lots to do me for a while now. Better tell pop to get on another team so he will win a few games. Well I guess I better quit and go to bed. We are stand to company to-nite and have to sleep with our clothes on again to-nite I can sleep any place and anyway now. Say hello to the rest of the family for me.
Friday, 31 March 1944
Dear Aunt Anna,
Well I received your most welcome parcel yesterday thank you ever so much for it, it sure was swell. Will eat for a while again. We sure are having swell weather here these days all nice an sunny just like the middle of summer. It should be warming up at home now to pretty soon shouldn’t it. I suppose curling has nearly ended for those now eh. They will put away their rocks and wait till next winter. I hope I’m home next year to get in a game or two myself. I here we are moving pretty soon. But from all reports we have to sleep in tents and from then I don’t think it will be very long till we do our little bit. I here you had quite a snowstorm around the first of march. But if that’s the only one you had this winter I guess you can’t kick. Had a letter from aunt Viola a couple of weeks ago and she said they had sold their land. Who bought it some mininite I suppose. The farmers around here are doing spring work by the looks of things I think they are nearly done. Some of the crops are up two three inches already. If we had weather like this in Canada we would be so busy all the time that a person would never get any rest. The days are sure getting long now a person has a heck of a time passing the time after supper because theres nothing to do. But is sure is nice just to lay in the sunshine and soak it up. It sure makes a guy feel lonesome tho and wishing he was home. I don’t know if I’m going to get my leave in the middle of April or not I sure hope so. Just to get away from the army for awhile would be nice just for a change. They say a change is as good as a rest. We are having a dance next Tuesday for just to companies, but its so long since I’ve danced that I have forgot how. Hows Buddy and Warren doing these days with their girl friends, still come home in the wee hours of the morning. That’s one thing in the army a person sure gets lots of sleep. A person is always to bed before twelve o’clock. We haven’t been doing much the last while but fatigues and stuff like that. I’ve been hut orderly for two days now. It sure is an easy job. Was up town last night and seen the show. The only one in the place. It sure was good the name of it was “Stage door canteen”. You wanted to know how many parcels I have got from you. Well I think it was three as far as I can remember and the cigs. Thanks again ever so much for them it sure is swell of you. The stories is just what I needed to pass the time away. We were right out of reading material. I think most of the mail is coming over by plane now and after a little I think it will all be by plane. We only need three pence stamps for these letter now instead of six. I think that so the boys will write more airmails instead of ordinary mail. It will be more letters and won’t take up so much room. Well the paper is running short so I guess I better quit till the next time. Thanks again for the parcel and say hello to the rest of the family for me.
Loads of love,
Sunday, 14 May 1944
Dear Aunt Anna,
Well I haven’t got much to do right now so I guess nows a good a time to write you as again. I got the parcel you sent me yesterday it sure is swell. Thank you a million times. My parcels always come in bunchs I got one for aunt Viola yesterday to. So I figure I’m a pretty lucky boy to have a couple of aunts as you to. I got one from Mom a little while ago to so I’m quite the lucky boy. The weather has been real nice the last while. Real summer weather. Its been trying to rain the last couple of days but hasn’t succeeded yet. A little wouldn’t hurt because the dust in our tent is about two inches thick and when the boys move around a bit the dust nearly chokes you. I hear a rumor we are getting beds of some sort to sleep on. Well I sure hope its true so we can get off the ground and not get our blankets all dirt. They had a church parade this morning and went not because I wanted to. I would have a lot rather stayed in bed and slept. It was for “Mothers Day.” They had some padre that has been to the east with the forces there. He gave us quite and interesting talk. It didn’t seem like church at all. I suppose you are right in the middle of seeding and are pretty busy right now. I hear you got on the land pretty early this spring. So you want be rushed so much in getting the seed in. I sure wish I was back home right now helping. I sure am getting sick of this life. I hope they start something pretty so we get it over and know where we stand or if we don’t. It sure gets sickening. They took our caps away from us the other day and gave us tams what a heck of a thing it is to wear. If you really want a laugh you should get a look at some of us fellow. It’s a real picnic. We haven’t had any leaves for awhile and just a few days ago they gave us twenty four hour passes and is there ever a bunch of the boys A.W.O.L. They bought a guy in yesterday in handcuffs that has been on lose for over two months. I bet he’ll get quite a rap. I hear Vivan Bales got his wish at last a son. I guess he’ll pretty proud papa right now. Well I guess there is going to be quite a few of new arrivals this summer by what I hear. I suppose all the young squirts are out girling now like Vernon, Harold and Eugene. They should be quite the little lady killers right now. I guess Lido should be open up now if its going to open this year eh. Well I’ll sure miss the times I had there this year I guess. Well that’s about all I can think of right now. O yes I can’t put my full address on the back of this letter but I guess you know it without me putting it in the inside. They censor all the letters so this will be second hand stuff. Say hello to the rest of the family for me.
Friday, 8 September 1944
H1845 A/Cpl. Broten K.O.
Well kid I got your letter a couple of weeks ago. But we are on the move so much that I never get much time to write letters. I just get in the middle of a letter when we move or something, so here goes now. I've been on the move so much to different places that it took your letter about three months to catch me. The letter was all full of addresses but it finally got here. Well kid my hand is all okay again now and they have me back in old France again. Much to my sad sorrow. But I hope the war ends pretty soon so I can tell you all about it when I get home if I ever get there. The country over here is much the same as England and I didn't care much for it. So the sooner I get back to old Canada the better it will suit me. But right now I would settle for England. Over here they play for keeps so it a lot safer in England where they play for fun. They sure have a lot of fruit trees in this country but most of the fruit is green yet. When we eat it all we get is the bellyache which isn't good. I sure wish I could gethome and have a good meal for once. All we get over here is stew three times a day and its sure getting mighty sickening. The weather here was swell till the last couple of weeks ago when it started raining and it hasn't quit since. It rains every night and twice in the daytime. Standing in trenches with a foot of water is no fun. I have a sore throat and a cold now from being wet so much that I feel miserable as heck. When we walk which we do a lot of it nearly gets me down. Well I have nearly run out of words so I guess I'll have to quit for this time. Say hello to the rest of the family for me and be a good little boy and hope to see you soon.
Letter by Kenneth Broten to his cousin, Trevellyan Piper, 8 September 1944.
Wednesday, 20 September 1944
H1845 ACpl. Broten K.O.
Dear Aunt Anna & family,
Well here I am again still kicking and I hope to stay that way. Well I finally got the parcel you sent me a couple of days ago. In fact I got four of them altogether two from you and two from Mom, I always get them in bunches. The ones you sent were mailed on July 14 and June 16 but they finally got here. So I have lots to eat right now. Now the question is how am I going to carry them till I get around to eat them. Because we are always on the move. Sometimes we have to move four or five times in twenty four hours. It sure makes a guy mad to get up in the middle of the night and move. Thanks a million for the parcels they sure hit the spot. I even got my cigs now so I am doing alright. I got the cigs Bud sent me about a week ago. Well I suppose you are all finished harvesting and thrashing off now, and good start on the fall work. I hear you have had a lot of rain last fall to bad. Good thing you didn’t get much hail. Well the time is slipping of its getting kind of cold at night now. Winter will be here before we know it. Well I hope the war ends before winter sets in to bad. Sleeping in these trenches in the cold is sure hard on the old bones. The war seem to be coming along okay by the big shots. But its still damn hot around here some times. All I do now is fight to keep alive. I hear Arnold(?) and the Qually boys are home on leave the lucky guys. I guess they will have some real old celebrations, wish I was there to help them celebrate. Well the weather here is the same way as at home. I guess it rains every day and twice at night. Boy what a life. I guess they has some wild old times around there last summer. Well I hope I can get in on some to them next year. I sure am getting sick of this war business. The young punks at home are stepping out a lot now to I hear. Well I guess a person is only young once so he might as well have a good time while he can. I hope you can understand this scribble. I can’t read it myself. I sure am going to make up for lost time if I ever get home again. I’ll have to find myself another girl when I get home again. I hear I lost the one I had. Well at least there shouldn’t be a shortage of girls when I get home with all the boys that get killed over here. Well thanks again for the parcels and I hope you had a good crop this year. Will have to close for now. Hope to see you soon. Your nephew signing off.
Thursday, 28 September 1944
Well girl I sure was glad to hear from you. I got your letter to-day, the mail is coming through pretty good now. Well I guess I have gotten all my mail that has been sent to me now. I think I have most of them answered, at least it's the best I can do. I hope nobody is mad at me I did my best. I really struck the jack pot about a week ago. All my parcels caught up to me at once. I got five in two days. Boy did they ever hit the spot. I ate them till I was blue in the face because I couldn't carry them. I got a letter from Mom the other day by the way she spoke you are having a lot of rain at home. Well it's the same way over here. It rains over half the time and it gets kind of cold at night now so I guess winter is just around the comer. I sure wish the war would quit before winter really sets in. Living in holes is sure hard on the old bones. If I ever live through this war I'll have more aches that I no what to do with. The last couple of days I've got wet up to my neck so many times trying to get out of the way of the lead that was flying around. But I tell you I would have submerged like a sub if it means saving my neck. Well enough of that I sure would like to have been home when Herb and the rest of the boys were home. Its been so long since I've had a good time I have forgot what it feels like. But I hope that it will be all over pretty soon so I can get back into the old way of life again. If I don't get home pretty soon all the little kids that used to be will be all grown up. I sure would like to see your little girl. I bet she is getting to be quite cute now. Maybe she will go out with me when I get home. That is if you trust me with her. I here my girl I used to have went and got married on me. What a kick in the pants that was. But I guess I'll live through it. If that was all I had to worry about right now I would be alright. You can find ine a nice girl for me when I get home. Eh what! But a guy can't be fighting a war and be up on his loving to. I sure wish I could have gone west with the boys when they went. I bet they will be able to make a little hay out there. Well at least when a person is in the army he isn't out of a job. He gets his dollar fifty a day whether he works or not. But I am getting dam sick of this life. I guess the men in in Canada are getting scarce and it don't take very long for them to ship them over here once they get in the army. I sure hope we don't have to fight the japs when we get finished with the germans. They are tough enough for me. Right now we are in a cement dug out and I feel pretty safe. The germans really have some good places. There sure isn't many of the boys left that came in on Dday. When I think of all the good boys that lost their lives, it sure makes me mad, well girl there isn't much to tell you so I guess this is about all for this time. I hope to hear from you again. Say hellos to all the folks at home for me.
Letter by Kenneth Broten to his friend, Mrs. William Hanke, 28 September 1944.
Saturday, 14 October 1944
H1845 Cpl. Broten K.O.
Dear Aunt Anna & family,
I received your welcome letter yesterday it sure was good to hear from you. Sorry to hear you are having so much rain at home but it’s the same way over here, it rains nearly every day. I guess old man winter is just around the corner now of the way if feels out at night. It sure gets cold standing in some dirty old shit trench. Will I’m getting to see some of the countries over here at least. I’ve been in France, Belgium and I crossed into Holland for a little while one day. But what I saw of it I didn’t like its all water. We were wading around in water up to our neck and it sure was cold. But it was the only place where the lead wasn’t flying so much. Then we had to stand in trenches all night wet. I had so many aches and pains the next day that I didn’t know what to do with them all. Well all the boys that I used to know are nearly all gone. I am one of the lucky few that are left. I guess I must still be in Gods good grace yet and I hope its that way all through the rest of the war. I don’t know why some body don’t smarten these germans up and tell them they are on a losing proposition and that they might as well give up now as later. So this war would end while there are still a few of the boys left. But we keep losing the boys everyday they will get us all before its through. Well for my part I am getting mighty sick of this fighting for your life all the time. I fell about twenty years older since I’ve been over here. You asked about the parcels well they come over in good shape as long as they are sewed in a cloth. I hope I get that gum you sent me. I got a letter from Sidney Rasmussen the other day and by the way he talked he has as much of the war as he wants. All he wants to do now is get back to England to his girl. Hes getting married to some girl in England if he ever gets back. I hear my girl got married on me. So you better pick a nice little for me so when I get back if ever I can give her a whirl. I sure would like to get out on my own for awhile and have a good time. Well I hope the weather at home is better now so they can finish thrashing. I suppose winter will set in before the will get the fall ploughing done. I guess the boys must have been pretty busing doing all the work by themselves. Will theres lots of things I could tell you but I can’t write it on paper so I guess I’ll have to quit now. I’ll tell you if I ever get home. By for now.
Loads of love.
Tuesday, 31 October 1944
H-1945 ASgt. Broten K.O.
Well I got your letter the other day and I haven't had a chance to answer it till now. I haven't got any ink in my pen so I'm trying to do my best in pencil. Well the weather here sure has been cold the last while. I'm nearly freezing to death in this place. We get wet nearly every day working through all these little ditches they have in Holland here. My rheumatism is sure giving me heck I know that. I could go for my winter under wear right now. But I guess if that's all we have to worry about I will be alright. The mail has been kind of poor coming in lately. Our vehicle had a hard time getting around the only place they can travel is on the top of dikes and the gennans can spot them pretty easy up there. I wouldn't have this country if I could buy it for a dime. The darn place is all water. Well promotions come fast in this war business if you are lucky enough to stay alive. I'm a platoon Sargent now. The last week I never even had an officer I was all by myself. And it sure was hard work. We got an officer last night so now I don't feel so bad. He can shoulder some of the burden. Well I hope we get a rest pretty soon so I can get some of the parcels that you said people have sent me. I sure hope yours get to me alright. Thanks a million for sending me one. At least I still got one girl that thinks of me. I hear all the young girls are getting married seems to me they were just kids when I left home. But time sure does fly. Well I hope they don't take them all and that they leave me at least one. Its getting so dark out now that I can hardly see to write. Well Christmas will soon be on us before we know it. r thought I might be home this Christmas but I guess not. Well I hope next year that I will be home. Its no fun being away over here all your life. Well when it freezes over here we will have to get some skates around for there is sure a lot of water. We should chase the germans twice as fast then. Eh what! Well Bea the paper is getting short so I guess I'll have to quit for now. Say hello to your family and tell your little girl I'll step out with her sometime.
Your pal as ever Ken
Thursday, 9 November 1944
H-1845 ASgt. Broten K.O.
Dear Aunt Anna & family,
Well I guess its about time I just sat down a write you a letter and thank you for the parcel I received from you a couple of days ago and the box of gum I got about a month ago. Thanks a million for them it sure hit the spot. Well they finally gave us a little rest. We were in a big town staying with civilians for three days it sure was swell sleeping in beds with sheets. They treated us just like kings. I wish I could have stayed there for the duration. It's the first time I had any fun for so long it was heaven. I just can't get used to settling down again. But we will be back in it again. I guess pretty soon much to my sad sorrow. Well promotions come fast in this game. I have three stripes now. Which is three to many all it is, is a lot more work. Boy, I tell you we sure earn our money. That's the only reason I took them I make two twenty a day now. That pen you sent me sure is alright only it is a little stiff yet when I write so I have oodles of letters to answer now. I will just have to get down some night soon and answer them or I wont be getting any more letters. I hear the weather at home is a little better lately which is sure good news. I hope everybody got their thrashing done. I suppose winter is nearly there by now or maybe its there already. The weather here isn't very good, it rains nearly every day and its as cold as old heck we nearly freeze at nights. We are sleeping right on the hard floor now and it sure is a let down after sleeping in nice beds for three days. Oh how I wish I was back there, either that or the war was over so we could all go home. Well I thought I had forgot how to dance but I still can swing the girls around at a pretty fair clip. They are really good dancers over here in Belgium to. I seen some really cute girls to. If I had stayed there very long I might have brought one home with me. The only thing is some of them can't speak English at all. But that's the only draw back. I hope we get a chance like that again. Well I guess that about all for this time. Thanks again for the parcel and gum. Say hello to the rest of the family for me please.
Tuesday, 21 November 1944
H-1845 ASgt. Broten K.O.
Well girl its along time since I've dropped you a line to let you know that I am still alive and kicking but that's all I can say. The weather here has been terrible it rains all the time and I expect it to snow any day now. The last while we have been living in trenches for the last while and in all the mud and water I tell you its no fun. They gave us rubbers to wear the other day so now our feet should be dcy half the time at least. We are back from the front lines for a few days to get cleaned up. You should have seen us the other day we hadn't washed or shaved for a week and you couldn't tell if were niggers or white men. It sure felt good to have a bath, shave and a change of clean clothes. We have to move up to the front and so right now I am trying to get all my letters answered while I have a place to write them. Because a person can't write letters in a trench these days, its too wet. Well they finally got good hearted and gave us a three day leave a couple of weeks ago in a town in Belgium and boy did we ever have a good time. We lived right with the civilians in their house, slept in nice feather beds. They treated us just like kings. It's the best time I've had since I left Canada. We were all mad we couldn't stay longer. I could have spent the duration there if they would have let me. I'd like to go back some time and see my girl friend I had there even if she couldn't speak much English. You would never know there was a war in that town it sure was a swell place. Well I thought last year at this time I would be home for Christmas this here year, but I guess I'll have to wait another again now. That is ifl live that long. How's your little girl? I sure would like to see her. She must be really cute by now just like her mother. She'll be a grown up lady by the time I get home if I don't hurry up. I hear that all the boys that have been over seas five years are going to get a leave home. How I wish I had been over here five years now. But I guess my time will come some time. I hope. Well Bea I guess that's all for this time. Hope you can read it. A Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.
Friday, 24 November 1944
H-1845 ASgt. Broten K.O.
Hello there I got a letter from you and Shirley yesterday. I wrote one to you three or four days ago. But we are moving up to the front pretty soon where I won't get a chance to write you for a week or so so I thought I had better do it while I had the chance. Well the weather here is still the same. It rains all the time. It sure is going to be miserable when we move back into dirty old trenches. I hope it never snows. I guess you must have quite a bit of snow at home now. I hear you are going to the states. Well I sure hope you go and have a good time. I had one of my wisdom teeth pulled yesterday and I think he nearly pulled out my jaw doing it. I never had anything hurt so much for a long time. It was all I could do from slugging the dentist it hurt so much. Today my face aches like old heck. Well I sure hope the boys get some job where they don't have to get into the army. If they can stay out of it till spring the war might be over. I hope. Oh yes we have our winter underwear now and it sure feels good to have it on I tell you. Bud Qually is sure a lucky guy to stay in Canada so long and now getting to move closer to home will sure tickle Peanuts. Some people have all the luck. Every time I get a letter from home some one has always been out for a big meal of some sort. How I wish I could get in on some to them. All we have been getting lately is stew, stew and more stew. When we are in trenches we only get two meals aday. One before it get light and the other after it gets dark so the Germans won't see us move around. Ok I tell you this war is some go. I only hope I'm alive when it ends. Which I hope is pretty soon. How are my horses getting along? Are they in good shape. I sure would like to hitch them up right about now and go for a drive. Oh yesterday I found a place where they had a bath tub with hot water. Did I ever a swell bath I could have stayed in there for hours it felt so good. Well I guess that all for this time Mom. Have a good time on your trip.
Friday, 1 December 1944
H-1845 A/Sgt. Broten K.O.
Dear Bea and family,
Well girl here goes in an attempt to write you a letter. I have alittle time to spare right now so here goes. We are out for awhile now so I'm trying to catch up on all my letter writing poor as my scribble is. I'll do my best. I got the parcel you sent me three, four days ago and a letter from you yesterday. Thanks a million for both of them it sure is swell of you. If you were here or I was there I'd kiss you. That is if there was no objections from Bill, which I'm sure he'd have something to say about the matter. I got a parcel from the community club yesterday too so I'm doing very nicely I think. I'll have to get busy and write them a letter of thanks to. So I'll be a pretty busy boy writing letters, one from Herb the other day to. Telling me about his trip to N. Y. He sure is a lucky kid, I hope he gets home for Christmas. Well I guess the weather at home must be the same as it is here rains all the time. The only thing it hasn't frozen here yet. I guess when it freezes here it will be really cold, because we nearly freeze to death now. But I hope the weather stays fairly nice because the big high ups say the war will be over sooner. That the way I want so if I do live through this war I will be home sooner. Well I guess Mom, Sis and Aunty will be having a good time in the States right now. They have been wanting to go for a long time so I hope they enjoy themselves. I guess pop got kind of lonesome without them for he wrote me a letter the other day and he don't do that very often. Well your little girl must be cute as a bug's ear oy now, I wish I could see her. She'll be a lady by the time I get home. I guess I'll have to sign off this time again. "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year'' to you all.
P.S. For Diana and her mother
Friday, 15 December 1944
H-1845 A/Sgt. Broten K.O.
Dear Aunt Anna & family
Well I guess its about time I was thanking you and the family for the nice Christmas parcel. Thanks you ever so much for it. It sure was swell of you all. I just back from a forty eight to Brussels in Belgium. I sure had a good time and really enjoyed myself. The only thing is that it didn't last long enough. It sure is a place where you can get rid of your money fast. So I made the best of it. Well Christmas is nearly here again I'm still not home but next year at this time I sure hope to be. I guess the weather must be getting pretty cold at home now. Well we only had snow here once for a little while but it sure freezes pretty hard at nights. I got a letter from Mom to-day and I guess they had a good time while they were in the States. Shirley says I have some nice looking cousins there so I guess I'll have to visit them when I get home if ever. Shirley said she had a swell time. I sure wish I could have been them. I hear Harold is back from Winnipeg again too don't he ike it in there. He don't know how lucky he is. I guess Vernon finally got away to the bush to. Well it's a good place to be maybe he can stay out of the army that way. I hear Warren is going to the mines with Harry Wold. Well they should make pretty fair wages there. At least he shouldn't have to go to the army and I hope he never has to go. I guess they are trying to get all the guys they can get in the infantry now. I had a letter from Herb Wold the other day and he said they all had a reboard to see if they could get more A1 men. But he can't get over he is a C2 the lucky fellow. Well I hear we are going to have a Christmas dinner which will be something. I guess the curling will be starting pretty soon if its cold enough and I guess it must be. So every body will be happy again. I guess Kay Lofto will be out of it this year by all reports. I hear they are expecting an addition to their family. Well I guess some body has to do the good work. With all the guys that are getting killed over here. Well thank every body in the family for the parcel you sent again. And I hope you have a good Christmas and New Year. Hope to be with you next year and eat one of your good Christmas meals. Bye for now.
Yours as ever,
Monday, 18 December 1944
Received your letter yesterday, very glad to hear from you. As I have nothing to do this morning I thought I might as well answer it so I don't forget. If I leave a letter for three four days it takes me weeks to answer it. So here goes. I just got back from a forty eight hour leave to Brussels and I had a real nice time. It sure felt good to be on your own again for awhile. Things are sure high there if you want to have a good time. So I spent a lot of money. Its no good to me here anyway so I might as well have a good time while I have the chance. For to-morrow we may die. The only thing I don't like about a leave like that is it don't last long enough. A person just gets to know his way around and a person has to come home. But its better then no leave at all. Got a letter from Herb the other day and he's just waiting for his Christmas leave home the lucky stiff. Well I hope he has a swell time and maybe next year I'll be home to so we can have a real Christmas. I hear we are going to get a Christmas dinner, but I don't think it will be a turkey or chicken though at least I hope its not stew. Received a letter from Sis and but what I gathered from her letter she really has a swell time in the States. Boy some people sure are lucky. She says I have some cute cousins down there. I'll have to go down there when I get back and have a look see for myself. Got to find a girl for myself some place or other, don't I? Well I don't know if they have winter in this country or not but it only snowed once yet and it melted right away. All we get is rain so all we have is mud, mud and more mud It freezes at night most of the time and its kind of cold but that's all. I guess winter at home now is there to stay,eh. Well at least theres no mud then. Curling will be in full swing pretty soon I suppose. Well have a couple of games for me. I sure would like to toss the odd rock right now myself Our family at home will be pretty small this year if both the boys go away. Pop will be a busy man this winter all by himself He'll have to cut down on his running around abit. Kay Lofto sure has tough luck in the girl line doesn't she. Elner and Roy L. better change around or make a trade or something. But such is life. They say if you don't succeed . try, try and try again. Well the paper is coming to an end again so I guess I'll have to close. Hope you can understand the scribble. Have a swell Christmas and New Year. Say Hello to Bill for me.
Your boy friend as always.
Sunday, 14 January 1945
H-1845 Sgt. Broten K.O.
Well I guess its about time I was dropping you a line or two while I have time. I got a letter from you and sis three, four days ago. I received that box of chocolates you sent me to the other day. So I'm not doing so bad. Well we have our winter here now. The last week or so it has snowed quite a bit. It melted the last couple of days and then snowed and boy do we have walking. When we move half the boys are sliding on their rears. Some of them have some pretty sore spots. It would make lovely spring around here now. Well my birthday has come and gone I am getting to be quite an old man. Time sure does fly. When I was sixteen I was wishing I was twenty two or so. Now I wish I was sixteen again. Well I'm sure glad you had a few grand meals during Christmas and New Years. Maybe next year I will be able to join you. I hope. Sure glad to hear you received my bond that I sent you. I should have bought another one last time. But as I send thirty five dollars home now I guess it don't make any difference. How is Vernon making out or is he to busy making money to write home. I hope Warren goes to the mines. He should make out pretty fair in them. I sure am sorry to hear that Lindy died. Now I won't have a team atall. I guess they have only two horses left now then. Well pop's chores will be getting smaller and smaller. He'll have more time to curl, his curling· should be in full swing by now. Well I guess the lucky boys that were home for Christmas will have gone back by now. I'm waiting for a letter from Herb to tell me what kind of a time he had when he was home. Kay Lofto must have been quite happy to be able to go to a New Years dance after her family addition. So Shirley was telling me. I guess she'll have to keep trying for a girl or is it quits this time. Some of the boys are back from their leave in England and they say they had a swell time. I wish I knew somebody over there. But if I get a leave over there at least I will be on my own for a while again and have the best time I can. Well I have run out of words so will have to close for now. Say hello to the rest of the family for me.
Your loving son, Ken xoxxx
Letter by Kenneth Broten to his mother, Mrs. H. A. Broten, 20 January 1945.
Saturday, 20 January 1945
H-1845 Sgt. Broten K.O.
Well girl its that man again. I received your most welcome letter to-day. Sure glad to hear from you. The mail has been kind of lagging lately. But to-day I hit the jack pot, two letters and a parcel from Mom with the socks you sent me in it. Thanks very much for them they are the real thing when we have to wear gum rubbers all the time. I wear a pair of socks a couple of days and I have holes in them that I don't know which end is which. I can darn socks pretty fair right now. Well we have our winter over here now. It snowed about a week ago. Then it all melted in about three days and it rained for a few days. Then last night it started snowing again and its been doing that off and on all day. It sure is hellish weather to my way of thinking. But I guess we'll have to get used to it for I guess we'll be here for awhile yet by the looks of things. About that parcel you sent me along time ago. I received it okay and wrote and thanked you for it ages ago. The letter must have gotten lost. Thank you vecy much for it. It sure was swell of you. Well I'm sure glad to hear you had a swell Xmas. It makes it all the nicer when all the family is to-gether doesn't it. I received a letter from Herb the other day and he told me of his leave at home and what kind of a time he had. Boy he sure is one lucky fellow to get home once in a while. Maybe next year we can all get to-gether on it eh. Well I sure hope so, I'll go mad if this keeps up much longer. I hope I get my leave to England pretty soon. I don't know anybody over there but at least I'll get away from this for a little while and be on my own. Well my birthday has past and gone. Sure am getting old eh. A whole twenty-two years old. I'm getting to be quite an old man and believe me the way I feel now I feel like I'm hundred and two years old. I'm getting so lazy in this mans army that its terrible. I can hardly get myself to move around anymore. Dianne should be a pretty big girl by now. If I wait a few more years maybe you 'II let me take her out. Eh what! Well I guess this about all for this time the paper has run out. Till you write again to my two girlfriends.
Thursday, 1 February 1945
H-1845 Sgt. Broten K.O.
Dear Aunt Anna,
Well I guess its about time I wrote and thank you for the chocolate you sent me. I received them about a week ago but never seemed to get around to doing it till now. So this time I mean it so here goes. There isn't much to write about but I'll do my best. Well the weather here was nice till the other day. Just like winter out. We had a lovely little snow fall. It looked just like home. But then it rained the last couple of days and now theres no snow left and its all water, slush and mud out. When we walk down the road the trucks just plaster us with water. Well I better thank you for the chocolates that's what started this letter in the first place. Thank you very much for them they were sure real nice. I think I'm beginning to get a bit absent minded I would what I'm doing half the time now, I guess may be its because I have such a heck of a cold. I really have a dandy and I can't seem to get rid of it maybe it will turn in to something and I will get to go to the hospital for a nice long rest. Which would be a good thing right now I think. We have been having it pretty soft the last while. But I think we are in for something pretty again. The Russians are sure going to get old heck. I hope they keep up the good work and maybe the war will be over in three of four months. Well I sure hope so. Got a letter from Warren the other day. He says Gordie and him like it well were they are. I guess its kind of hard work making stones (sounds like a jail to me) but they only work six or eight hours aday. So they shouldn't kick. Well I guess curling is.the main topic around home now. It should be going full swing now. Well I hear George P. and Valetta Q. are going to get hitched. Well that's one more to the Qually clan after awhile it be just one big Qually family. How your big son Bud, he isn't married yet is he. Well thanks again for the chocolates.
Will have to sign off,
Sunday, 4 February 1945
H-1845 Sgt. Broten K.O.
Well girl I received a letter from you to-day. So as this might be the last time I write to you for quiet awhile, I thought I better do it while I had the chance. There isn't much to write about. The only thing is that I have one heck of a cold that I wish I could get rid of or that it would worse so I could go to the hospital. Which would sure suit me fine right now. I sure could stand a rest. We had a bath this morning that didn't help my cold and either I can tell you. We had a church parade this afternoon. So now I'm trying to fill in the afternoon writing letters. I got a letter from Mrs. Rasmusssen to-day to. So I do get the odd letter. I haven't gotten that parcel that you sent from the states yet. But I guess it will get here sometime. We are having awful weather now it rains cats and dogs every once in awhile. So its pretty slippery walking and muddy. Well the war seems to be going pretty fair but I guess will have to give it another go yet before it ends. I suppose it will take pop nearly all winter to get the ice hauled and packed away. I'll bet he sure misses the boys. Well every time you write me there is somebody getting buried or married so I guess theres still a little life left in the country. I would have like to have been home on aunties birthday. I didn't know she was that old. Sure glad to hear Vernon and Warren like their jobs the lucky guys. Buddy better get married pretty soon or he will be an old bachelor like me. He should have the cream of the crop with all of us boys away. In the letter I got from Warren he said all he missed was his girl friend. How is sis coming along with her boyfriends. I guess they are all away now. Eh. Well her and pop can get in more curling that way. She should be getting pretty good at it now. Well I guess the house must be pretty quiet with all the boys gone. Well maybe next year we will all be home to make the racket we used to and get everybody mad. If the war keeps going the way it is now it should end before long. I hope. I sure hope you get the pictures I sent you pretty soon. But sometimes it takes quiet awhile to get where they are going. Well I have come to the end of my line of gossip. I can't think of anything else to write about. I like to get letters but there is nothing to write about back that's what gets to me. The same old like all the time. It gets kind of sickening. I guess they are having quiet a time with the boys over there in the army. Well I can't say as I blame them abit. Well I guess this all for this time. Good-bye for now.
Your loving son,
Thursday, 15 February 1945
H-1845 Sgt. Broten K.O.
Well here it is that boy again your good for nothing so. Just a line to let you know I'm still alive and kicking. Right now I am in an old cellar with a stove in it and its really nice and warm. The first stove we have had that didn't smoke for a long time. Did we ever cook up a swell dinner the other day. We had chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and all the fruit we could eat, cherries, strawberries or plums. We have all the fruit we can eat and I tell you we sure do tear into it. We can't carry it with us so we might as well eat all we can. I haven't had any mail from home for a week or so. Got a letter from Sidney R. the other day just finished writing him. I must be due for a parcel pretty soon or at least I hope so. The weather hasn't changed at all here. It still rains every day. A person has to be a duck or goose to get around. But if that's all we have to worry about I guess we'll be alright. My cold is still with me I just can't seem to get rid of it. I suppose by now the bonspiel in Winnipeg is over. How did the boys make out this year. Just like other I suppose not worth a shit. Well I sure wish I was with them. I'm just waiting for my leave to England but it never seems to come. The war will be over before I get my leave. Which sure will suit me okay. It can't end to soon to suit me. I sure hope the Russians make another push pretty soon so may be the jerries will give up pretty soon. Is auntie Anria at Alice's now. There must be only the three of you home now. Boy the family is sure getting small. One of the guys has got hold of a violin and hes making the darnest sounds come out of it. Sounds more like a cat fight to me. I have a lovely bed to sleep on to its got real springs with mattress and a feather tick. I tell you we are living high right now. I hope it stays that way. Well I have run _ out of gossip and can't think of anything else to bullshit about so I guess I'll have to shut up. How are my two big brothers making out or are they to busy to write home anymore. Well I think I'll have to go out and see what I can scrounge for supper. Maybe I can run into some chicken but I think they are all gone now. Hope to hear from you soon. Did you get that picture I sent you of myself yet. How's sis doing. Got lots of boy friends or are they all away working.
Your loving son,
P.S. Just got a letter from you as I finished this letter. Glad to hear from you.
The war ended for Kenneth Broten on 16 February 1945, when he was killed in action. The padre of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles wrote to his parents, “Your boy died in the cause of freedom, peace and human brotherhood.”
Kenneth Broten was Dacotah’s hero. It has been said that no man can do greater than to give his life for his country.
Kenneth Owen Broten (1923-1945)
Page revised: 7 November 2020