Wednesday, January 27, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Wartime Sweethearts Reunited

     Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and it seems that no matter how much we try to run from it, the season of love is impossible to escape! Stories like this one make it much easier to handle, however, and this kind of love is truly what Valentine's Day is all about. This touching tale was in the news quite a lot lately, and I've been following it since it started appearing. It's too amazing not to share this week, and I hope it warms your heart.

     In 1944, twenty-one year-old Norwood Thomas was stationed overseas with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. While in England, he came across sixteen year-old Joyce Durant near London, "a pretty little thing," as he described her. The pair quickly became close, but neither of them knew at the time that Norwood was only months away from having to head off to France. When asked to describe his time getting to know Joyce, Norwood said:
     "All I can say is it was long enough for me to become smitten... For me to decide that this is a girl I want to marry and want to live with."

     In June of that year, their romance was cut short when Norwood was sent to France as part of the D-Day operations. After the war, he returned home to Virginia without getting the chance to see Joyce again or say goodbye. Despite his best efforts by mail, he was unable to convince her to come to America and be his wife, as she was in training to become a nurse at the time. The two eventually lost touch and Norwood married another woman, who he described in a CBS interview as "a good woman, who helped my mixed-up head get straight."

     After her death in 2001, the veteran began reminiscing about his long-lost wartime love. Ironically enough, she was doing the same thing on the other side of the war.That's where the Internet stepped in to get the ball rolling.

     According to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, now eight-eight year-old Joyce lives in Australia under her married name, Joyce Morris. She also found herself single again, and late last year asked her son Rob if he could find someone on his computer for her. After searching for "Norwood Thomas, 101st Airborne," he found an online article which mentioned the now ninety-three year-old D-Day paratrooper. The writer of that piece was able to put him in touch with his mother's wartime boyfriend, and a plans for a reunion soon started developing. This past November 6, with the help of each of their sons, Norwood and Joyce were able to speak to each other for the first time in over 70 years via Skype.

     According to the Virginian-Pilot, their conversation lasted two hours and covered everything from what each of them had done with their lives to sports, politics, the good times they'd had while dating, and the challenges of old age. Unfortunately, Joyce has lost most of her vision. "Do you see me now?" Asked Norwood, to which she replied "No, I can't see properly."
     "Well, I'll tell ya, I'm smiling,"
said Norwood, which made her smile and joke, "I bet you are."
     At one point, the pair showed off the photographs they'd kept of each other from way back when. 
     "I remember you were walking with me one day, and the girls coming this way all had a silly look on their faces. Then I look sideways, and you're winking at them!" Joyce remembered, laughing. "Not me! I would never wink at another girl," replied Norwood, also laughing. "You were such a scalawag, you," Joyce shot back.

     The Virginian-Pilot's feature on Joyce and Norwood's digital reunion ended with his telling her he wished he could give her a hug. "The only problem is, I can't take you in my arms and give you a squeeze... What would you do if I could give you a little squeeze?" He asked towards the end of their chat. "Oh, it would be lovely," Joyce replied. "We could always do with a hug, can't we? Whatever age we are."

     Given the distance between them, the pair never thought they would actually be able to have that hug. However, the Internet stepped in once again to bring them together. Local news coverage of the Skype call back in November was picked up by outlets around the world and warmed the hearts of many. One woman where Norwood lives, in Virginia Beach, was so taken with the story that she decided to set up a GoFundMe campaign after having consulted with Norwood for permission. Her goal was to raise enough money to send him to Australia for an in-person reunion with Joyce. After receiving over $7,500, the campaign was recently halted when Air New Zealand stepped in to cover his entire trip, first class, as well as accompaniment by his son. 

     Norwood is a bit nervous about the reunion, but is counting down the days until he is able to see Joyce again. "I am going to a world that I have never seen and meeting a woman I haven't seen in seventy years... Seventy years is a long time, and at the time it was very intense, and it took a while for that to die, and we will find out if it died completely," he said when reflecting on his upcoming February 8 trip. He's already planned out what he's going to do right away: "That's the first thing I'm going to do, I'm going to give her a squeeze."

     Hopefully this story warmed your heart as much as it did mine! I can't wait to see more about these two and the coverage of their reunion this February. If you'd like to see some video from their Skype conversation, you can watch here: Big thanks to CBC for publishing such a refreshingly nice article.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. if you'd like to keep up with me on more days than just Wednesdays, you can follow me on Twitter @DLeitchHistory :)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Sightings- The American Redstart

Happy Saturday Everyone!  We continue our blogs this week with another bird that can be found in our John E. Pearce Provincial Park.

This type of bird is a New World Warbler, unrelated to Old World redstarts, and it derives its name from the red tail of the males and the word “start” being an old word for tail.  Though not always the case, this species of New World warbler appears to be one that is the most stable and abundant.  The American redstart is a migratory bird, spending its winter in northern South America, the West Indies and Central America, often found in shade-grown coffee plantations in these areas, as well as spending time occupying shrubby areas along their journey.

These birds breed in open woodlands or scrub, usually near water and lay 2-5 eggs in a nest in the lower part of a bush.  The American redstart is mostly monogamous, but as many as 40% of offspring are not fathered by the male of the pair.  Males are very territorial and those that are superior occupy the best habitats, while those who are inferior occupy secondary habitats such as dry scrub forests verses moist mangroves. 
Redstarts eat almost only insects and catch them while in the air.  This species has been seen flashing the orange and yellow of their tails, on and off, to startle and chase insects from the underbrush as well, their diet consisting mainly of moths, flies, small wasps, spiders and aphids to name a few. 
Take care and have a great week ahead!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Profile of a Hero: Emmanuel Ringelblum

     I've probably mentioned this on the blog a thousand times, but at the center of my history obsession is a deep passion for studying the Holocaust, which I've had since I was about eight years old. At that young age, I was introduced to Anne Frank's diary and a wide range of other books being published at the time to try and connect children with this difficult topic through the stories of real children. I've continued the reading and studying until now, and have just begun one of the most well-known history courses at uOttawa, The Holocaust with Dr. Jan Grabowski. I should warn you now that things may seem a bit darker now that I'll be dealing with this period more regularly, but they are stories that I think everyone can connect with in some way.

     On the very first day, Dr. Grabowski introduced us with the story of a man which has been in the back of my mind ever since, and I thought I would share it with readers today. It is of Emmanuel Ringelblum, a true hero both of history and for history.

Emanuel Ringelblum with his wife Yehudit and their son Uri
     Ringelblum was born into a Jewish family in Buczacz, Poland (present-day Ukraine) in 1900. In 1927, he earned a doctorate degree in history from the University of Warsaw, and was also active in public affairs. He belonged to the Po'alei Zion (a Marxist-Zionist Jewish workers' movement), taught high school for a brief period, and then worked for the Joint Distribution Committee in Poland.

     In November of 1938 the Committee sent him to the border town of Zbaszyn, where he was put in charge of 6,000 Jewish refugees who were forced out of Germany and not allowed into Poland. After five weeks in this role, his experiences had a great impact on him.

     Following Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939, Ringelblum continued working for the JDC, running soup kitchens and welfare programs for the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto. He and his friend Menahem Linder also founded a society for the advancement of Yiddish culture in the ghetto.

     In 1923, several Jewish historians in Poland formed a historical society, of which Ringelblum was also a leader and prominent contributing scholar. He edited the society's publications, and by 1939 had himself published 126 scholarly articles.

     Seeing the ways in which Jewish culture was slowly being destroyed in the ghetto and across Poland prompted him to begin his greatest achievement only a few months into the war: the secret Oneg Shabbat Archive. The name means "Sabbath Pleasure," and reflected how its members met in secret on Saturday afternoons. In the beginning, the archive would collect reports and stories from Jews who had come to the ghetto seeking help from the self aid organizations.
Emanuel Ringelblum with the members of board of the International History Congress 1933
     Ringelblum spent his days collecting information, and wrote his notes at night. He knew that what was happening to the Jews was unprecedented, and was determined to make a complete record of time and place for historians in the future. As an historian himself, he knew exactly how to go about doing this. He and his colleagues would collect information and write about towns, villages, the ghetto, the resistance movement, and the deportation and extermination of the Jews in Poland. Towards the end of the Warsaw ghetto, the archivists were sending out every bit of information they had about the murders to the Polish underground, who in turn smuggled it out of the country. Ringelblum's archive thus helped to expose Nazi atrocities to the rest of the world.

     All of the Oneg Shabbat materials were preserved in three milk cans and buried beneath the Warsaw ghetto. In March 1943, Ringelblum and his family escaped from the ghetto and went into hiding in a non-Jewish part of Warsaw. He returned to the ghetto in the midst of its infamous uprising and was deported to the Trawniki labor camp, but escaped with the help of a Polish man and Jewish woman. He and his family went back into hiding, but their hideout was discovered in March 1944. Soon after, Ringelblum, his family, and the other Jews he had been hiding were taken to the ruins of the ghetto and murdered.

     One of the buried archival sites was discovered in 1946 and a second in 1950, and the other has yet to be found. The materials inside them and Ringelblum's own written chronicles constitute the most comprehensive and valuable source we have for information concerning the Jews in occupied Poland. It also speaks to a remarkable quality of human character that, when pushed to an extreme level of persecution and destruction of identity, showed resilience and resourcefulness in the face of the enemy and has endured long after the last blow has been struck.

     Ringelblum's archive is one of those stories that seems to speak directly from historian to historian, regardless of time and language. This penchant for collecting, writing, and publishing can have so much power and profound significance, and Emmanuel Ringelblum remains a true hero and inspiration for those who follow him in this field.

     Information courtesy of Yad Vashem and Dr. Jan Grabowski.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Saturday Sightings- Cerulean Warbler

Happy Saturday Everyone!  Though this little birds aren't currently around at the moment, let's learn a little about them for when they get back.

This species of bird is a songbird that nests and forages high in the forest canopy, so is not easily seen.  They breed in deciduous forests in eastern North America and migrate to mountain areas in South America for the winter, in the shade of trees on coffee plantations.  The cerulean warbler eats mainly insects, sometimes catching them in flight. 

The cerulean warbler population is quickly declining, due to their wintering habitat in the northern Andes dwindling and also due to their vulnerability to nest parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird.  

Have a great upcoming week!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Nominating Committee Report 2016

Board Approved List of Nominees for Tyrconnell Heritage Society`s Board of Directors to be voted on at the Annual General Meeting on February 25, 2016.  Meeting starts at 7pm at the Backus-Page House Museum.

Nominees for 3 year terms
Liz Elliott
Beth Goldsworthy
Brian Elliott
Dave Welch

Nominees for 2 year terms
Still seeking two nominees

The following board members still have years left on their term.
1 year left: Robert Ellis, Ken Reinke, Janice Ellis, Austin Pitcher
2 years left: Betty McLandress

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

World War Wednesdays: No. 1 Technical Training School, St. Thomas

Cover of The Aircraftman, February 1943 courtesy of Elgin County Archives

     Many readers will immediately recognize the buildings in discussion this week for their current uses, but I'm sure not as many were aware that they served quite different purposes during the Second World War. Two of St. Thomas's most significant facilities, both located on Sunset Drive, once housed the No. 1 Technical Training School for airmen during the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Here's some photos of them during that time:

     The present-day County of Elgin building was once used as the officers' quarters for the school.
     What is more familiarly known as the St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital was home to the actual school complex itself. This photo shows the most familiar part of the building located closest to Sunset Drive, which was once the school's administrative building.

     The only facility of its kind in Ontario during the Second World War, the No. 1 Technical Training School was established in 1939. It became the main source of ground crew, training some fifty thousand for active wartime service. Equipped for over 2,000 students at one time, it offered six-month courses for aircraft electricians and aero-engineers, airframe and instrument mechanics and specialized training for fabric and sheet metal workers.

     Here's an interesting article published in The Ottawa Journal on June 18, 1943 describing wartime conditions in St. Thomas, courtesy of a really interesting blog called "As Canadian As Can Be":
     St. Thomas Becomes Air-Minded
St. Thomas, Ont., June 18--
     Since the outbreak of the war St. Thomas has become an air-minded city, largely because there are in the immediate district three large schools and an airport, all part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. 
     Largest is the technical training school, housed in the $7,000,000 former Ontario Hospital building on the outskirts of the city, where thousands of young men from the Dominion and other parts of the Empire are being trained for ground crew, equipment, office and other R.C.A.F. duties. The number of graduates of this school, first to be established under the air training plan, now is nearing 30,000.
     Many of the men in training or on the school staffs have brought their families here, increasing the city's population bu 2,000 or more persons. This influx of population has created a demand, greater than the available supply, for small furnished apartments. Conversion of private homes into apartments has helped to solve the problem.
     As a railway city, St. Thomas is affected chiefly by the wartime increase in rail traffic. Three United States railway lines which have division headquarters here, are busier than ever before. Employment is at its greatest peak.
     So great is the demand for labor that boys just out of school and not eligible for military service are being engaged as firemen, brakemen and in other work.

     As great as the school was for providing a boost to St. Thomas's economy, the facility itself did not come without a few problems. Fingal Bombing and Gunnery School historian Winston B. St. Clair describes its major lack of morale efforts as the cause of large scale AWOLS (away without leaves) during the Christmas season of 1940. 

     However, efforts were made to create ways for recruits to occupy their time while they weren't in the classroom, and a number of different clubs and teams were established:
Tug of War Team, ca. 1940

Boxing Team, ca. 1940

Brass Band, May 22, 1941
     In addition, the school had its own monthly news publication called The Aircraftman.

     When the war ended in 1945, the school was closed and the complex was returned to the Department of Health. It is thus unique to the nearby Fingal school in that its buildings remain standing to this day, and largely unchanged.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday Sightings- The Blue Jay

Happy Saturday Everyone!  This weeks blog is about our Ontario baseball teams mascot.

This species of bird is native to North America, breeding in both deciduous and coniferous forests and commonly found near, and in, residential areas.  Its body is mostly blue with a white chest and a blue crest.  Around its neck is a black U-shaped collar and there is a black border behind the crest.  The blue jay feeds on nuts and seeds mainly, soft fruits and occasionally small vertebrates. 

This bird got its name from its noisy nature.  It is bold, noisy and aggressive, sometimes called a “jaybird.”  It can be beneficial to other birds however, as it may chase predatory birds and will scream if it sees one within its territory, much like sounding an alarm when danger is  near, which smaller birds often recognize.  On the other side, blue jays have been known to attack smaller birds as well unfortunately.  They are considered highly curious and intelligent birds, and in old African American folklore, the blue jay was considered a servant of the Devil.

Fun fact: The blue jay is the provincial bird of Prince Edward Island, Canada. 

Take care!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

World War Wednesdays: First World War Fondness from Aylmer, Ontario

Letterhead of a note dated July 1916, from Pte. C. Ramey to the Secretary Treasurer of the Aylmer Travel Club
      It's been a while since we've covered anything related to the First World War, and we're also due for a good old Elgin County topic, so this week combines the two! Basically, it's been a while since there's been anything besides the Fingal Bombing and Gunnery School, so we'll give it a bit of a break. In preparation for the post, I started combing through the First World War collection from Elgin County Archives, and came across something that instantly captured my attention. All photos and information are from Elgin County Archives and the overview of the Elgin County Cultural Services education project, A Sock to Remember.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Seedy Saturdays- The Sugar Maple Tree

Happy Saturday Everyone!  Just a few months ago we were watching these amazing trees brighten up our Autumn.

Also known as the rock maple, this species of maple tree is native from Nova Scotia west through Quebec, southern Ontario to southeastern Manitoba.  It normally reaches 25-35 m tall and when healthy, can live for over 400 years.  The sugar maple is one of the most shade- tolerant out of the large deciduous trees, giving it the ability to grow under a closed canopy and grow comfortably in any type of soil but sand.  Though these trees can grow to be giants and persevere through less-than-ideal growing conditions, they are one of the most susceptible to pollution when compared to other maples.  Acid rain, soil acidification and increased use of salt on streets and roads have contributed to maple decline.

Along with the black maple, the sugar maple is a major source of sap for making maple syrup.  Its wood is also one of the hardest and densest of the maples, so it is sought after for furniture and flooring, as well as to make pool cues, baseball bats, and a variety of musical instruments.  In the 19th century, the sugar maple was used as a street and park tree, because it was easy to transplant and due to its beautiful colours in the fall.  

Enjoy your week!