Fargo woman finds 100-year-old letter to her great-uncle from the King of England
The letter from King George was both a thank you and a shot in the arm.
FARGO — When 20-year-old Jens Olaf Kittlesrud arrived in England with a few thousand other American troops to fight in World War I, he was handed a letter from the King of England.
Heady stuff for the son of a Norwegian immigrant from Barnesville, Minn.
Hear Tracy Briggs read the story here:
The letter on ivory stationery topped with the red crest of Windsor Castle was written in script:
“Soldiers of the United States, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the armies of many nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom. The Allies will gain new heart and spirit in your company. I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you and bid you Godspeed on your mission.”
It was signed by King George V and dated April 1918.
Basically, the king was giving an enthusiastic shoutout and thank you to the Americans joining the fight.
The letter had apparently been tucked away for years when Jens Kittlesrud's great-niece, Bettye Hoff, found it among her parents' possessions. She was curious about the story behind the letter and wondered if other soldiers had received it.
There were few clues, except that the letter was folded in an envelope and addressed to Miss Lillie I. Hoff, 814 3rd St. N., in Fargo. (There was no ZIP code on the envelope. They wouldn't be around until 1963.)
“He sent it to his future wife with a note on the back that he had arrived there safely,” Hoff said.
Lillie Hoff was Bettye's great-aunt. Uncle Jens must have been especially proud of the royal letter to take the time to send it to the woman he loved.
“I don’t have many letters (from him). He wrote sparingly — ‘Our ship arrived safely,' short messages like that,” she said. “He sent some menus so getting a good meal must have meant a lot to him."
Most likely, Jens Kittlesrud wasn’t the only proud American to send his royal letter home. Historians estimate about a million soldiers received the king’s handwritten, but obviously photo copied, note. They received it before setting foot on the battlefield, before experiencing any of the horrors of war. It's believed the king's appreciation for the American forces was genuine.
By the time U.S. soldiers, including Jens Kittlesrud, joined the effort in 1917, Great Britain had been at war with the Central Powers since August 1914. His Majesty might have figured writing a thank you note to the reinforcements and giving them a shot in the arm and a pat on the back was the least he could do.
Jens would go on to serve in the expeditionary forces in France during the war assigned to Company A of the 34th Engineers. He boarded a ship in Brest, France, back home to the United States on June 25, 1919. Two years later, he married Lillie in Fargo.
The couple had two sons, Obert and Marcus, and later moved to Montana where Jens worked with his father in the mercantile business. Unfortunately, Jens was stricken with pneumonia and died at 36. Both Obert and Marcus died in their 50s, leaving Lillie alone with her memories, including the letter her husband once received from a king.
“Lillie never married again. She felt she had had the best so why try again,” Hoff said.
Lillie died in 1985 at the age of 90.
The letter remains with Hoff, weathered by time but a treasured reminder of a loved one’s patriotism and service.