Remembering Robert and Andrew Mosser: An Adventure of Discovery in Special Collections
For library customers and staff alike, it’s no secret that Toronto Public Library is a place that provides limitless opportunities for finding information. Usually, the search is active and deliberate, but once in an amazing while, one can happen upon a treasure by serendipity. Such was the case when I “discovered” the Mosser brothers.
While organizing a box of greeting cards from the 1930s, I spied a small envelope hand-addressed to Messrs. Andrew and Robert Mosser of Preston, Ontario and post-marked Hamilton, July 15, 1930. Since it is rare to come across a greeting card with an intact mailing envelope, I was instantly intrigued.
The envelope, open at one end, contained two identical birthday cards, one made out to Andrew and the other to Robert, and I quickly realized that the seven-year-old boys were twins. The two cards were signed with love from a Mrs. Foreman. The cards are pristine with crisp edges and rich colours, as though they were printed yesterday.
You would think that working in Special Collections and being surrounded by old, rare and beautiful things would make one immune to the effects of a humble and probably mass-produced greeting card. Not so. There’s a lot to be said for the day-to-day ephemera that passes through people’s lives – greeting cards, food labels, theatre tickets – for it is through these scraps that our cultural history emerges answering the question of how people lived.
In the case of the birthday cards, they piqued my interest to the point where I needed to know the fates of Andrew and Robert. Maybe they’re still alive, I said to Peggy, the department head at Special Collections.
A quick Google search later and I had my answer. Unfortunately, their story is not a happy one, but one that should be told, especially so close to Remembrance Day. Robert and Andrew Mosser both perished at the age of 19 when their ship the Amerika, carrying them across the Atlantic to join the war effort, was torpedoed by a German submarine.
But the boys have not been forgotten by their town or their country. Notices of their deaths appear on Government Canada's Virtual War Museum website. There we can read how they both joined the RCAF together, and how they remained together right until the end. The Ontario War Memorials website shows the granite monument where their names are inscribed. Erected in 1926, the Preston Memorial was meant to honour those killed in First World War; the names of the Second World War fallen were added in 1949. At findagrave.com we can read a touching remembrance written by a childhood friend.
The website of the Waterloo region of the Ontario Genealogical Society offers this brief description written by Scot Ferguson of the boys’ character:
From the time they were born in the Galt Hospital on July 25, 1923, Robert and Andrew Mosser were inseparable. They played six-man rugby at the Preston High School and were ends on the team which won The W.O.S.S.A. championship. They joined the Boy Scouts in 1935, and in 1940 were both elevated to the rank of King's Scouts. Robert was a Cub leader and Andrew an Assistant Scoutmaster. They were founding members of the Preston Scout House' Bugle Band and both sang in the choir of the Preston United Church. They not only looked alike, they acted the same. Even their best friends had a difficult time telling them apart. Andrew and Robert were sworn in at the Toronto depot of the R.C.A.F. They had planned to go to university in the fall, but made the unanimous decision to join the R.C.A.F. On March 20th, 1943 the Globe and Mail reported "In the first ceremony of its kind ever held in Canada, Robert and Andrew Mosser of Preston were awarded navigators' wings at a 'twin' presentation." The brothers were together until the end. They were both Killed in Action on April 22, 1943. They were 19 years old.
Fast-forward to today, and we find that the memory of the Mosser brothers lives on through the Preston Scout House Band of which they were founding members. The current scout band has rallied to have a local bridge named after the brothers as part of its 80th anniversary celebrations.
Although they never had children of their own, they have nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and -nephews who I imagine must talk about the uncles they'd never met. They might even have a few stories and anecdotes that have been passed down through the family. And thanks to the discovery of a greeting card, more people know about them too. Through ephemeral items, history becomes that much more tangible and those who fought and perished real human beings. How those birthday cards wound up in Special Collections though remains a mystery.
If you'd like to see more ephemera, visit the Toronto Public Library Digital Archive to see many items. To see more of the real thing, as well as old and rare books, manuscripts, maps, historical art, photographs and so much more , come visit us in the Charles and Marilyn Baillie Centre on the 5th floor of the Toronto Reference Library.