This Week’s Headlines
Book chronicles WWII letters home
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
CAMBRIDGE, Md. (Dec. 22, 2015) — On Christmas Day, 1943, Capt. George Nabb Jr., a Dorchester County farmer, wrote a letter from “somewhere in England” to his wife Georgia and son George III back in the United States.
In the midst of World War ll, he lamented being away from family for the holiday and missing the traditional morning fox hunt on the farm but was also conversational about some of the day-to-day happenings on the war front.
“Guess what I had one night last week for supper?” he wrote. “A soft crab. Col. Blatt has some in cans and gave me one. That certainly was nice. Came from Crisfield I think.”
By itself the Christmas Day letter may not warrant much attention but with the more than 300 other letters Georgia saved from her husband, they provide a unique window into the lives of a young farm family separated by war and preserve some of the county’s rich farming heritage.
After the war, the letters stayed mostly untouched in Georgia’s secretary desk until she died in 2005.
“I knew they were there but never really looked at them that much. But when she passed away my wife looked into it more,” said Carlton Nabb, George Jr.’s second son. Carlton said his father rarely spoke about his time in service and through the letters, “you just get a whole different view of the time period.”
When he and his wife Mary inherited the secretary, they read the letters and in sharing them with family, decided to preserve them for George Jr.’s grandchildren and future generations.
“Opening, sorting and reading the letters gave new light to the life George Jr. and Georgia had lived. The war and the time they spent separated had never been a focus for the boys. They came to know that it was a time their father did not like to talk about,” Mary said. “As we read the letters we realized there was so much happening within that span of five years, both within the family and in the world. And now we were reading about it on a personal level and thinking about it as ‘this is what Mom and Dad were living.’ It was a real awakening.”
In exchange for keeping the letters in its collection, the Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture scanned and bound each letter and envelope for the family.
But as talk of the letters spread, Mary and Carlton said they decided to make the letters into more than family keepsakes.
“We did the book primarily for the grandchildren,” Carlton said. “Then more and more people wanted it.”
That led to publishing the letters as the book, “I Can’t Tell You Everything.”
Mary took on the task of typing up the 300-plus letters and along the way she read several books about the 115th Infantry, 29th Division that George Jr. served in.
The book has each of the letters typed along with some photos and other items from the war front and is available at a few stores in Cambridge — Craig’s Drugstore, the Bay Country Shop and the Dorchester County Historical Society bookstore — and through the publisher Saltwater Media in Berlin.
The letters don’t reveal much about what was happening in the war, both to avoid risk of spreading military information and to keep Georgia from worrying more than she already was. In most of them, George asked and talked about what was happening on the farm and in the county.
“Even though it’s nothing exciting, it just reflects back on the homefront and how the people and farms of Dorchester County were getting along, Carlton said. “Everybody came together in those days. That’s just the way it was.”
Through the Great Depression, George Jr.’s father struggled to keep the 340-acre North Yarmouth farm afloat and turned the land over to an aunt. It was George Jr.’s mission to get it back, Carlton said.
“He asked her to keep the farm for him if he survived the war,” Carlton said. “The main thing on his mind was being able to get back on this farm and get it back from his aunt.”
That focus brought up a lot of questions in the letters about money — what this or that cost or what the crops and animals sold for — but Mary and Carlton said he also often asked about what others in the area were doing throughout the year whether it was wheat threshing to hog butchering.
“The letters that Dad wrote to Mom was the one way that his mindset could turn away from war and travel back to the farm or family he left behind,” Carlton said. “Being a company commander must have been a very stressful situation on its own, but being able to reflect back on what he left, it in turn gave him hope that after the war was over he would be able to return to his wife and child and the soil that he loved.”
George Jr. returned to the farm in July 1945 and started on his goal of getting the farm back. He and Georgia saved $7,000 to make the initial payment and grew the small dairy herd from a few cows mostly for family use to a registered Holstein herd of 85 milk cows. “Dairying was a part of the farm for a long long time,” Carlton said, adding the herd was sold in the 1970s.
With his two sons, the farm continued to expand and Carlton said he and George III tilled about 2,000 acres at one point.
North Yarmouth Farm was recognized as a Maryland Century Farm in 1994, having been in the family since the 1850s.
Now much of the farm is rented to two other farmers and at age 69, Carlton grows some hay and straw and keeps a few Red Angus cows on the farm.
“We have a big garden for the grandchildren,” Carlton said, then he laughed. “Sometimes that’s more work than tilling 2,000 acres.”
Though the three people at the center of the letters have all died; George Jr. in 1989, Georgia in 2005 and George III in 2007. But with the letters preserved — for the family and the public, part of their history and their farm lives on.
“Our family is proud of the Century Farm designation and after reading Dad’s letters we have a deeper appreciation of the legacy a farm holds as it is passed from generation to generation,” Mary said. “Since ‘I Can’t Tell You Everything’ has been published we have many times realized what an amazing treasure we uncovered in the letters. It was a hard decision to choose to share the story, but the information on a farm family living separated by the war and overcoming such adversities was one we thought other families could identify with.”