“Terrible bombardment today,” one entry reads. “Men killed.”
Then it goes on to talk of gas attacks, blanketless nights in the snow, a young man’s hand being blown off and — a note of joy here — a day with a hot bath.
Poignant stuff. It was in a First World War soldier’s diary, found among the hundreds of thousands of books donated to this weekend’s Times Colonist Book Sale.
Belonging to a Pte. C.S. Douglas of Bassano, Alta., the tiny, pocket-sized diary chronicles life in the trenches in 1916, beginning on New Year’s Day (“Got a double shot of rum”) and ending in the first week of June (“Fighting still fierce as ever, casualties very high.”)
Nothing but blank pages after that. Did Douglas become one of those casualties? And what about the diary itself — was its donation to the book drive intentional?
We’ll try to track down the family.
The book sale volunteers never know what they’re going to find when they open the bags and boxes dropped off by readers each year.
Could be a rare first edition like the Alice Munro novel that popped up this week, or it could be yet another copy of Fifty Shades Of Grey. Or a set of brass knuckles, or an FBI fingerprint kit, or a fruit pie, all of which have emerged over the years.
Then there are the forgotten treasures that slip out of the books themselves: banknotes, love letters, fading school photos (question: did hairdressers/barbers actually hate children in 1966?), baptismal certificates….
Among this year’s Kinder Surprises:
• A prayer psalter, written entirely in Cree, from St. Thomas’s Anglican church in Moose Factory, Ont.
It was translated into that language by a man named John Horden, who was an English schoolteacher before arriving in Moose Factory, at the southern end of James Bay, in 1851. After learning Cree, Horden translated portions of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and hymns. He was ordained into the priesthood while serving in Moose Factory. The church there, which opened in 1865, is still in use.
• A hollowed-out hardcover book, the kind that people use to hide their valuables. Usually when volunteers find such books they contain someone’s long-forgotten weed stash, but this one held a pair of eyeglasses, a list of Christmas presents and a crisp $100 bill. The cash will be added to the book sale kitty. The glasses will go to an NHL referee.
• A long-expired vial of prescription medication for a dog that we suspect has also expired.
• A photographic negative of a naked woman.
• A volume titled Why Trump Deserves Trust, Respect and Admiration. Every page is blank.
• “Dear Grammy, I wish I was with you back in Canada,” reads the childish scrawl on a postcard bearing a Belgian stamp and a 1955 postmark from Brussels.
• A book of photos of objects that look like penises: clouds, cacti, traffic signs, gourds and so on.
• From opposite ends of the spectrum: a massive history of the Boer War published in 1901, when the war was still raging, and a copy of Jacqueline Winspear’s The White Lady, which was released two weeks ago.
As fun as it is to mine the oddities among the donations, the real treasures are, of course, the books that will go on sale this weekend.
Here’s what you need to know:
The sale is May 6 and 7 at the Victoria Curling Club, 1952 Quadra St., from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the Saturday and 9 to 5 on the Sunday.
The books cost $3 for hardcovers and $2 for softcovers and children’s books. Payment is by cash, debit, MasterCard, Visa or American Express.
Bring a little bit of money and a little bit of patience. The sale usually starts off with a lineup around the block.
Wear comfy shoes, as you’ll be on a concrete floor. Some people bring their own carrier bags, while others pick up cardboard boxes at the curling club.
Pay parking is available in the lot that serves the curling club and Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. There is also free parking along Quadra, but watch out for residential-parking-only signs on some side streets. You can also take the No. 6 bus, which goes along Quadra.
Once the sale is over, representatives of schools and non-profit groups may help themselves to the remaining books, for free, from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday, May 8.
This is the 25thanniversary of the book sale, which the Times Colonist launched to fund literacy programs on Vancouver Island. The money raised is matched, in part, by provincial government funds via Decoda Literacy Solutions. Grants worth well over $6 million have been distributed (mostly to schools) since the first sale in 1998.
Everyone working at the sale is a volunteer, so please take time to thank them.