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Paradise Lost, WWI postcards delivered

Auction find in Kentucky ends with cards in the hands of Florence heir

News editor

Betty Ireland of Florence doesn’t like to answer calls with unfamiliar numbers.

One day in mid-October, Ireland got such a call. She didn’t answer. She ignored another from the same number the next day.

The caller didn’t wait a day this time; he called back five minutes later. Ireland hesitated, reconsidered, and answered.

Dave Diederich of Winchester, Kentucky, introduced himself and explained why he was calling.

“He said, ‘I found some interesting postcards in a book, and you are the only Ireland in Florence, Kansas,’” Ireland said. “Do you remember a Will Ireland?”

She knew of a William, grandfather of her late husband, Walt. She kept listening.

Diederich said he had purchased a copy of “Paradise Lost” at an auction, and when he opened it, he discovered three World War I field service postcards, all addressed to “Will Ireland, Florence, KS USA.”

“He said he would like for them to go to the rightful people,” Ireland said.

He assured her he didn’t want anything for them, and that he would mail them to her, Ireland said.

“I didn’t really think I’d hear from him, to be truthful about it,” she said. “Then here I got them.”

Field service postcards are claimed to be by some “the world’s first form letter,” designed to prevent details about the war from being sent, and thereby lessening the load for mail censors. About 200 million of the cards were printed.

The brown cards, about 4 by 3 inches, were printed with a list of phrases such as “I am quite well,” “I have been admitted to the hospital,” and “I have received no letter from you in a long time.” Soldiers would scratch out the lines that didn’t apply, then sign and address them. If they included a personal message, the card would be destroyed.

The names on the cards, “C. Freeburne,” and “S.S. Kelley,” were unfamiliar to Ireland. She began to question if “Will” was someone other than Walt’s grandfather.

She called a nephew, Tim Ireland, an Oklahoma State University professor who had researched genealogy, looking for a copy of William’s obituary. He didn’t have one.

About a week ago, she had a sudden revelation as to who might help.

“It was like a shot,” Ireland said. “Sometimes, you know, you just get a ‘ding, ding, ding’ that goes off in your head.”

She enlisted the help of her daughter, Wava, to track down Walter’s cousin, Milton Larsen, who lives in Wichita. It was the right call to make.

“Milton said, ‘Oh yeah, I know a William Ireland, born and raised in Florence; his dad was a banker, Frank Theophilus Ireland,’” Ireland said. “They had a bank where the library is now.”

Frank was the brother of William, Walt’s grandfather, and his eldest son was called Will.

“His name is William Arthur,” Ireland said.

Next of kin

Armed with that information, Ireland knew where to check next, and it wasn’t far from home: She called Les Allison of Florence.

“Les is my second responder for my life alert bracelet,” Ireland said. “When I called him I said, ‘This isn’t no emergency, Les, I just want to talk to you.’”

Ireland asked Allison if he remembered a William Ireland that was born in Florence, married in Peabody, and died in Peabody.

“That was my uncle,” was his reply, Ireland said.

Allison’s mother, Fay, was the youngest daughter of Frank Ireland, and she married Olin Allison.

“When we were kids, we’d go to Uncle Will’s,” Allison said. “He had a farm south of Peabody. I think we’re the next of kin.”

Allison and his wife, Linda, appreciate historic correspondence; they have a trove of old family letters dating back to the 1850s.

“We have family letters from the Civil War, we have family letters from the gold fields in California,” Linda said.

The postcards will fit right in, Les said.

“We have tons of stuff we haven’t really sorted through yet,” he said. “It’s all family. I will appreciate these.”

A book of those from Marion County who served in World War I includes the names of Stewart Stanley Kelley, Cecil Freeburne, and Clarence Freeburne, all potential card authors, but mysteries remain: Why did they send cards to Will? How did the cards end up in a book auction in 2015 in Kentucky?

Ireland said those questions interest her, but for now she’s content knowing she accomplished her goal.

“I wanted them to go to the rightful people, and I think Les Allison is the guy,” she said.

Last modified Nov. 9, 2015

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