Lisle and Grace Billington correspondence
Extent: (3 boxes).
Level of Description: Item level.
Name of creator(s): Grace Cronin Billington.
Date of creation: Undetermined.
Scope and Content: World War I correspondence
between James Carlisle Billington (a volunteer soldier who remained stateside)
and his wife, Grace Cronin Billington.
Administrative/Biographical History: The collection of
letters to Grace Cronin Billington (Grace) began in December of 1917 at
the time James Carlisle Billington (Lisle) enlisted in the U.S. Army in
Salt Lake City, Utah, and shortly before they were married. In some of
the early letters, he refers to her as “Kelly,” a pet name because she
was Irish and had auburn red hair.
Lisle was reared on
a farm near Spring City, Utah and Grace in Eureka, Utah where most of
the letters are addressed. Family stories indicate Lisle and Grace
eloped when it appeared he would be shipping out for service in World
War I. This elopement caused consternation to both families. Lisle was
Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and Grace was
Catholic. Family stories also reveal that the elopement was assisted by
Grace’s two paternal aunts, Kate Cronin and Maggie Cronin Shea, her
deceased Father’s sisters. This was done without the knowledge of her
Mother, Lillian Taylor Cronin Elbrecht. and Grace’s five younger
siblings: Jack, Frank, Louise, George and Dorothy.
Mrs. Elbrecht, a
widow since 1911, had only recently married Walter Elbrecht in December
1917. One letter is included from Lisle’s father responding to news of
the wedding with good wishes and understanding of the unusual situation
and also indicating they could not have attended the event in Salt Lake
City, had they been invited, because they were snowed in and also
occupied with caring for Lisle’s aged maternal grandmother.
By Jan 26, 1918,
Lisle was sent to Waco, Texas for training and was stationed there as
part of the 58th Recruit Squadron Aviation Camp. He remained
there until March, 1918 when he was moved to the 76th Aero
Squadron at Arcadia Florida. This base also is referred to in letters as
Dorr Field and his unit also referred to as Squadron A.
The letters end
abruptly on Feb 10, 1919, when he writes from Fort Logan, Utah, that he
expects to be discharged on Feb 14 and will arrive in Salt Lake City by
Feb 15. There are postcards included, incidental letters from 1920, plus
other letters which have no dates. Some of those are from other people
to Grace Cronin Billington. Notes and comments found on the envelopes
are in Grace’s handwriting and seem to be comments she made upon reading
them, either noting she had answered a letter or, in some cases, a
comment on his status, e.g. “Thank God he’s okay.”
There is no
explicit record of their lives from then until after World War II,
except that they lived and worked in Salt Lake City. In the late 1940s,
they moved to Tooele, Utah (a small town 35 miles from Salt Lake City).
Both went to work at the Dugway Proving Ground and Ordnance Depot
there. Lisle worked in motor pool and mechanic jobs. Grace ground
special lenses for military binoculars and other sighting devices. They
never had any children but were a source of support to their siblings
and eleven nieces and nephews on the Cronin side and five on the
The significance of
the letters lies in the snapshot of World War I from the perspective of
a volunteer foot soldier who remained stateside. These letters were kept
by Grace, wrapped in a blue satin ribbon until her death in 1983.
Because they were in a dry climate and in a cool basement, they survived
in fairly good condition. She told me of the letters in approximately
1962 and permitted my husband to remove a few stamps from the envelopes
for stamp-collecting purposes. At that time, when I expressed an
interest in the language of the day, she told me I could have the
letters on her death but not before.
Access and Copyright: This material is housed off-site and will require special arrangements
for anticipated use. Contact the Department of Special Collections.
Language and Scripts: English.
Finding aid/Inventory: Finding aid is available
Provenance/Source of Acquisition: Gift of Mary McGlone
Porter, niece of Grace Cronin Billington, Oct 2002.
Date(s) of description: