Friday, November 10, 2006

Lest We Forget

In honour of Remembrance Day, and continuing with the running theme of exploring the military artefacts of the Gananoque Museum Collection, we begin with a pair of tattered postcards from the First World War Dated August 1914. They show the parade of young men from Gananoque’s 3rd Battery - the “Gananoque Battery” as it was known - preparing to leave for the war in France. For some they were sharing their last good-byes with friends and loved-ones.

The postcard on the right includes the caption “March to the Front. 3rd Battery, 1st Brigade. Gananoque, Ont.” The second one, on the left, reads “Good-bye boys…Aug. 1914.” In total 86 men from Gananoque gave their lives in the two world wars, 58 of them in the drowning mud of the trenches in the First World War. Every year their names are read in the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Town Park. Their stories can be found in an excellent local resource, Gananoque Remembers, by Bill Beswetherick and Geraldine Chase.

In the important efforts to remember and honour the fallen soldiers, often times the valuable services of other groups are overlooked. Last week I mentioned the industrial workers in Gananoque and the valuable items they produced, such as the Link Trainer. Another group is the Nurses. In 1908, Georgina Fane Pope became the first director of the Canadian Army Nurses Corps, a section of the military that became vital to saving lives and comforting the dying in all wars since. This nurse’s dress uniform from the First World War was worn by Nina Meggs of Gananoque when she served overseas.

The Thousand Islands also played host to many wounded Canadian soldiers. The picture shown on the left is of patients and staff of the military convalescent hospital on Leek Island. The island originally served as the summer home of Mr. Ira and Mrs. Katherine Kip (later Runyon). They donated the island and home to the Canadian Government in 1917 to serve as a hospital until the war’s end. The museum collection contains letters of thanks from the Minister of Defence to Mrs. Runyon for her selfless donation. It must have been extremely therapeutic for the returning soldiers, shot up amongst the death and barbed wire of the Western Front, to recover surrounded by the nature and quiet of the Thousand Islands.

Another medical practitioner from Gananoque who saw action in World War I was Dr. William Hale shown here. Dr. Hale served with distinction in the conflict, and was even censured for following his fellow soldiers into battle on Vimy Ridge, something a valuable doctor was not supposed to do. One of the most interesting pieces in the collections is a telegram exchange that reveals the frustrating, heart-wrenching, and needless sorrow of war. On June 17th (no year recorded on the telegram), a simple and cold line passed the news that “William died eight June fractured skull accidental.” The family lived with that reality for over a month, sending a letter to the director of records to learn more. A telegram reply dated two weeks later, related the news that “Captain Wm Hale well serving with his unit Error made owing to officer same name being reported killed.” This sort of terrible mix-up must have occurred countless times, only adding to the awful stress of war.

Finally, as we celebrate and honour the memory of our fallen soldiers from the last century and our present conflict in Afghanistan, I believe it is important not to forget others from our past that fell serving the country and Empire. As the space of time increases between ourselves and those who came before, the sacrifices of those who served and fought in the 18th and 19th centuries seem to become less significant, less important. This jacket, for example, was worn by an artillery Colonel in the late 19th Century and was tucked away, forgotten in the attic. What of the Canadians that fought in the Boer War, the Fenian Raids, the Rebellions and the War of 1812? I was encouraged when I visited the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and saw that along with the medals from the 20th Century there were some from those conflicts I just mentioned. Through the efforts of veterans and museums, the memory of those that fought and served Canada in all the wars will remain strong.

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