'He was the love of her life': Lost WW II love letter makes its way home

After a letter written in 1943 was found in the attic of a Chambly, Que., house undergoing renovations, the writer's son came to collect a priceless memento of his long-departed father.

​​Bruce Macfarlane was filled with emotion when he saw the letter his father wrote to his mother in 1943

This letter tumbled out of old ceiling insulation when Véronique Côté was having work done on a house in Chambly, Que. (Chambly Photos/Facebook)

When ​Véronique Côté started renovating her house in Chambly, Que., southeast of Montreal, she had no idea that she'd stumble across a long-lost love letter from the Second World War — or that the writer's son would show up at her door a day later to collect it.

"It was really moving. He was so touched," she said. "I was so happy for him to find a souvenir like this of his parents."

The letter, dated Sunday, May 23, 1943, was written by Lt. Robert Macfarlane, an engineer serving with the Canadian Armed Forces overseas. 

He wrote an eight-page love letter to his wife, Jean Tyre Macfarlane, who was waiting for him at home in Westmount.

"My dearest wife, I've just come in from a walk of a few miles and thought I would write down, if I could, some of the things I've been thinking about you, things that are deep in me but that I've expressed perhaps only rarely to you," he wrote.

"I hope you won't find it too sentimental. I don't think you will, I know I never do when you write that way to me."

Jean Tyre and Lt. Robert Macfarlane were married just after the start of the second World War, and he wrote to his young wife who was living in Westmount, Que., while he was stationed overseas. (Chambly Photos/Facebook)

In perfect condition

Côté said she found the letter when they were pulling out old insulation from the ceiling of the 120-year-old house, and it just came tumbling out.

Despite having been there for more than 50 years, Côté said the "treasure" was in perfect condition.

She shared a photo of the letter online on June 30.

The very next day, Macfarlane's son knocked on Côté's door.

"Her mouth dropped," said Bruce Macfarlane. "It had only been on the internet for 12 hours, and here I was."

Côté purchased this house in Chambly, Que., in March of this year and had just begun renovations when she discovered the love letter. (Chambly Photos/Facebook)

The younger Macfarlane had got wind of the social media post through a friend who called him after recognizing the name.

"He said, 'You'd better sit down.' That got my heart going."

Macfarlane had grown up in Chambly and from the Facebook post describing the letter, he recognized the house where it had been found. He decided to drive from his home in the Eastern Townships about 115 kilometres northwest to Chambly and see the letter for himself. 

"I rushed out to get it. I didn't want anything happening to it," he told CBC's Homerun.

This is the first of eight pages Robert Macfarlane filled while writing to his wife in 1943. (Chambly Photos/Facebook)

Familiar handwriting

When Côté handed him the letter, Macfarlane was overcome.

"I immediately teared up, and she teared up," he said. "​I knew it was from my dad, for sure."

Macfarlane could clearly make out the slanted script of his father's handwriting.

"His writing actually looks like mine, which was kind of neat."

Bruce Macfarlane was overcome with emotion when he first read the touching letter from his father to his mother, dated May 23, 1943. (Submitted by Bruce Macfarlane)

Macfarlane didn't know his father for very long, making this precious memento all the more meaningful.

"I'm​ an emotional guy about my dad because I was 12 when he died," said Macfarlane, who is now 70.

He described his father as "a good, kind man" who was quiet and devoted to his family.

Macfarlane's mother, Jean Tyre, and father were both born and raised in Montreal. They married in 1940, just after the start of the war.

"He was the love of her life," their son said.

Bruce Macfarlane lived in this house for six months with his parents when he was still a baby. Now, nearly 70 years later, a piece of his family history has been unearthed. (Chambly Photos/Facebook)

No one is quite sure how exactly the letter ended up lodged in the ceiling.

Macfarlane's parents only lived in the house in Chambly for six months when he was just an infant.

"It might have been in a box that fell down and was hidden," he suggested. 

Now that it's been recovered, Macfarlane is planning on sharing it with the rest of his family and finding a way to preserve it.

"It must have meant a lot to my mom," he said.

Listen to Bruce Macfarlane read a section of the letter on CBC's Homerun.


Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.


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