Wednesday, March 30, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Leading Dogs of WWII

     After watching Patton recently, it dawned on me that a lot of major Second World War leaders kept four-legged friends during the most crucial time of their careers. I decided it would be interesting to introduce you to some of these dogs and discuss their role in the lives of their famous owners!

1. General George S. Patton , Jr. and Willie (USA)

     A young tank commander shortly after the First World War, Patton acquired his first bull terrier as a family pet and quickly fell in love with the breed. Willie was the last of his line and was by his master's side as his famous tank corps raced across Europe to liberate Nazi-held territory in 1944. He was named for William the Conqueror, and Patton's officers wondered if the eccentric general believed the gun-shy pup to have been the courageous warrior in a former life. Being the character that Patton was, he let them wonder. As the Allies closed in on Berlin, Patton boasted, “I will personally shoot that [highly descriptive profanity] Hitler, and Willie hopes the little [more of the same] comes back as a fire hydrant!” The ultimate alpha dog, General Patton was surprisingly doting to Willie. He had special G.I. tags made for the dog and even hosted a birthday party for his "second in command." He continued to spoil Willie until his death in December 1945 following a car accident, and the dog suffered separation anxiety for several months afterward. (

2. William Lyon Mackenzie King and Pat (Canada)
     Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was given an Irish terrier in July 1924 by his good friends, the Pattesons. He named the dog Pat and quickly became extremely fond of him, as evidenced by the fact that he mentioned Pat in his diary almost every day for seventeen years. A close companion, the two shared morning walks on the grounds at Kingsmere and evening snacks of oatmeal cookies and Ovaltine. On the 25th anniversary of his becoming leader of the Liberal party, King was presented with a statuette of himself and Pat. As the dog grew older, he developed several health problems and died on July 15, 1941. King buried him among the ruins at Kingsmere. Looking back on the events of 1941 in his diary, his most significant reflection was not in regard to Canada's involvement in the Second World War, but to the death of his beloved pet:
"As I think it all over tonight, the event that touched me most deeply of all was perhaps the death of little Pat. Our years together, and particularly our months in the early spring and summer, have been a true spiritual pilgrimage. That little dog has taught me how to live, and also how to look forward, without concern, to the arms that will be around me when I, too, pass away. We shall all be together in the Beyond. Of that I am perfectly sure." (Diary, December 31, 1941) (

3. Adolf Hitler and Blondi (Germany)
     Hitler's beloved German Shepard was given to him as a gift in 1941 from Martin Bormann. He had previously owned a Shepard during his years of poverty in the 1920s but was forced to lodge the dog elsewhere. When it managed to escape and return to him, he developed a great liking for the loyalty and obedience of the breed. Blondi played a great role in Nazi propaganda, as photographs of her were used to show Hitler as an animal lover. Dogs like her were considered germanischer Urhund, being close to the wolf, and were highly fashionable during the Third Reich. Blondi stayed with Hitler even when he moved into the Fuehrerbunker under the Reich Chancellory on January 16, 1945. By April 29, Hitler had become strong in his resolve not to have himself or his new wife, Eva Braun captured by the advancing Russians. That afternoon, he expressed doubts about the potency of cyanide capsules given to him by Heinrich Himmler's SS, and ordered them to be tested on Blondi. She died immediately and Hitler became completely inconsolable. In 2005, Hitler's nurse said that Blondi's death had affected the people in the bunker more than Eva Braun's suicide. (Wikipedia)

4. General Dwight Eisenhower and Telek (USA)
     While planning for Operation Torch in 1942, General Eisenhower decided that a dog would complete the unofficial family he had started through an extramarital affair with his driver and assistant, Kay Summersby. Having never owned a dog during his military career, he allowed her to choose the breed, and she presented him with two Scotties. Ike chose one and named it Telek, which he told others was a military secret but to Kay he said, "it's a combination of Telegraph Cottage and Kay, two parts of my life that make me very happy." To his wife, Mamie, he wrote: "I'm trying to get me a little dog-- Scottie by preference. You can't talk war to a dog, and I'd like to have someone or something to talk to, occasionally, that does not know what the word means! A dog is my only hope." (Jean Edward Smith, Eisenhower: In War and Peace)

5. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Fala (USA)
     Originally named "Big Boy," the black Scottie went to live in the White House with FDR in 1940. He renamed the dog "Murray the Outlaw of Falahill," after a Scottish ancestor, with the nickname Fala. Every morning the dog had a bone brought up with the president's breakfast tray, and he was given a full dinner every night. A constant companion to the president, he enjoyed travelling and performing tricks for guests. The dog was present at the Atlantic Charter Conference with Winston Churchill in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, in August 1941, toured defense plants and met the Mexican President in 1942-43, and attended both Quebec Conferences. During a 1944 sea trip to the Aleutian Islands, it was rumored that Fala had been forgotten and the president spent millions of taxpayers' dollars to get him back. The president responded with his famous "Fala Speech," in which he said, "These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them." When FDR died in April 1945, Fala attended the funeral but seemed lost without his master. He went on to live with Mrs. Roosevelt, and died on April 5, 1952. (

     Is your dog more spoiled than Willie and Fala? Do you think of them as your children, like Ike and Kay Summersby did with Telek? Do you believe in the eternal connection between pet and owner like Mackenzie King? Would you be devastated to have to test your cyanide capsules on your beloved pet?? (Okay, that one is slightly less relatable)

Thanks for reading!
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

World War Wednesdays: World War Women at the Canadian War Museum

     Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in a private tour of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa with a group of Members of Parliament. The tour included the museum's permanent exhibits as well as a walk through their current special exhibit, World War Women, with one of its creators. The museum and its contents probably rank among my top five favorite things on planet earth, and it was a great excuse to finally see the new exhibit! The nature of the group and tours meant that I was unable to take any photos to share with you, but I thought I'd share some interesting facts about the exhibit along with images courtesy of the Canadian War Museum.

     Here's the official description:
"The First and Second World Wars brought enormous changes to Canadian women’s lives. They adapted to the conditions of total war in practical terms – working, volunteering and serving in uniform. In the wake of war’s inevitable tragedies, they also faced other challenges. The contributions made by women to the Canadian war efforts were crucial, and their experiences forged a new understanding of women’s capabilities both within themselves and within society.
Through artifacts, images, audiovisual material, oral history and text, World War Women delves into the personal stories of the women associated with these materials. It is organized in stand-alone thematic zones, each devoted to an element of the wars that particularly involved and affected women."

     These 'zones' are dedicated to each of the areas in which women contributed to the war effort. For example, there is a section for women who worked in factories, ones who served as nurses, ones who served in Women's Divisions overseas, and all around the outside are little windows into the lives of women who wrote and received letters to and from loved ones who were fighting. At the end, we found ourselves in a room plastered with propaganda posters which gave a sense of how inundated women were at home with instructions to ration, save waste, buy war bonds, not spread any important secrets, and do their duties. It was a powerful ending to a truly moving experience!

Here are some of my favorite featured ladies:
Library and Archives Canada / e010785939
     Lillian Grant, at 23 years of age, was the only woman in the world to sport the Pipe Major’s insignia on her uniform sleeve during the Second World War. An experienced piper, Grant was asked to recruit, train and lead the Canadian Women Army Corps’ Pipe Band.

     Another interesting story which unfortunately does not have an image is that of Minnie Jarvis from London, Ontario. While her fiancĂ© was fighting in Europe during the First World War, he sent her a length of handmade lace. Sadly, he was killed shortly after, and Minnie kept the lace in its original envelope for 62 years before donating it to the War Museum.

CWM 20070060-002. Canadian War Museum
     This item has become one of the exhibit's most familiar symbols. It is an apron worn by Miss Canadas, who sold War Savings Stamps to Canadians on behalf of the government during the Second World War. This particular apron was worn by Barbara McNutt, who was only eleven years old when she signed up to canvass her hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Finally, some interesting facts about Canadian women at war (some might sound familiar if you're a regular reader!):

  • During the First World War, to raise money for prisoners of war, the Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club sold souvenirs made from the debris of the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings, which had burned down in 1916. (*** Some great examples of these can be found at the Bytown Museum, Ottawa!***)

  • During the Second World War, women could purchase pattern books that they could use to knit items for military personnel, including amputation covers.

  • Women and girls — some as young as 11 years of age — sold 25-cent War Savings Stamps on behalf of the federal government during the Second World War. By the end of the program, they had raised $318 million.

  • More than 50,000 women served with the Canadian Armed Forces during the two World Wars.

  • Personnel of the Canadian Women's Army Corps at No. 3 CWAC, collectionscanada

  • Molly Lamb Bobak was the only female Canadian official war artist sent overseas during the Second World War. She went on to be one of Canada’s most celebrated war artists.

  • Canadian War Museum

  • 3,000 nurses served in the armed forces, and 2,504 were sent overseas with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War. Canadian nurses were accorded officer status to discourage fraternization and give them authority over patients.

  • Department of National Defense

  • During the Second World War, even with a pilot’s licence, women in the Royal Canadian Air Force-Women’s Division were not permitted to fly.

  • Women's Division, 1942, No. 1 Technical Training School, St. Thomas, Ontario

  • In 1942, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps established the first all-female military pipe band.


  • During the Second World War, more than 300,000 Canadian women held jobs related to war production.

  • Defence Industries Limited, Ajax, Ontario

  • In 1942, more than 100 contestants from Canada’s major military manufacturing plants vied for the title of “Miss War Worker.” The winner, Dorothy Linham, starred in a Palmolive Soap advertisement.

  • At the end of the Second World War, only three of the 3,000 women employed at the Canadian Car and Foundry plant kept their jobs.

  • Women soldering and assembling cables for airplanes, Canadian Car and Foundry Co., 1945.

  • During the two World Wars, approximately 100,000 Silver Crosses were given to the mothers and wives of soldiers who were killed.

  •   Special thanks to the Canadian War Museum for the information and images (unless otherwise labelled). The exhibit remains open until April 3rd so if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend experiencing it while it's still here!

        Thanks for reading,
    Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)  

    Saturday, March 19, 2016

    Saturday Sightings- Eastern Wood-Pewee

    Happy Saturday Everyone!  Back to birds we go!

    “Pee-a-wee!”  This is the characteristic sound of the eastern wood-pewee, a small bird common in deciduous forest and woodlands.  This species of bird often sits high in trees, in areas that are generally exposed for good viewpoints.  They are sit-and-wait hunters, flying after insects and then returning to their perch.  Though insects make up most of its diet, eastern wood pewees also eat other small arthropods and berries, some of their favourites being wasps, bees, winged ants, beetles, moths and grasshoppers.  These birds are olive-brown with longer wings than other flycatchers (catching food while flying).

    Take care!

    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    World War Wednesdays: Close to Home: Second World War Mishaps in Fingal and Beyond

          In my research of the No. 4 B&G in Fingal, I've come across a few accounts of incidents throughout Elgin County which can best be described as "a little too close to home." It never ceases to amaze me how the conditions in the area were so reflective of a wartime setting, with planes constantly flying overhead and training activities being conducted in places that are so familiar to all of us today. Like any group of people learning a completely new task, mistakes were made during these activities, and in this case the stakes were extremely high for the people of Elgin County. Here are a few of Fingal's luckiest (but also scariest) memories!

         Before we get started, I think it's of interest to mention that the young students were frequently scared with horror stories during their training. P/O John Macfie reflects that he and his peers were constantly assailed in ground school with a story of a trainee at a B&G school somewhere in Canada who dropped a bomb through the roof of a dance hall while night bombing, killing one woman. This training was a serious business!
    Port Stanley lighthouse, ca. 1940

         The first incident comes from the reflections of Cpl. Harry Brown in Blair Ferguson's Southwold Remembers... The Fingal Observer, No. 4 B&G School. 

    "There was a local lighthouse keeper in Port Stanley, Shelbourne "Sob" Taylor, who also ran a boat rental service and operated a small shipbuilding yard."

    "In the fall of 1943, just after freeze up, there was an incident that makes my blood run cold when I think of it. Shortly after 0800 hours, on a cold, frosty morning, with poor visibility, a machine gunnery aircraft and a drogue shit were practicing air-to-air gunnery and due to poor visibility, the gunner opened fire right over the village of Port Stanley. I was alone at the Marine Section and had just gone outside when I heard the first short bursts of a few rounds. I could hear the bullets hitting the ground just a short distance away. I jumped down on the ice on the creek and stayed close to the wall of the dock. A few seconds later there was another burst right through the center of the village. I could hear bullets hitting the fishing fishing buildings across the creek. I had just climbed to the dock when Sob Taylor came running across the bridge, waving his arms and shouting, 'stop those gunners.' A bullet had come through the roof of his kitchen, grazed his wife's arm while she was cooking breakfast, hit the floor and bounced up, hit the ceiling and came to rest in a dish on the table. I called the Gunnery Section and they called in all gunnery and drogue ships until the fog lifted. Fortunately, Mrs. Taylor was not seriously injured."

    From Perry Clutterbuck, Fingal:

    "One day we were drawing hay into the barn where my brother now lives. We were drawing the hay off the wagon with a large hay fork, connected to a big rope. The rope was connected to a pickup truck, which backed down the barn bridge to pull the hay into the mow. Being someone who always wanted to be involved with what was going on, it was my job to pull the rope back up the hill so the truck would not run over it. While doing this I saw a Fairey Battle come down in the neighbor's field. We got over to the fence and had a good look at the plane. It came down with the wheels up and left a large mark across the hayfield. The propeller was bent, but there did not appear to be too much damage. A truck was brought in and the plane was loaded after the wings were taken off. It was not in the field very long."

    Another from Cpl. Harry Brown:

    "Early in 1941, surveying began [for the school's bombing and gunnery ranges] and after about two weeks, two suitable sites, one south of Melbourne and the other near Dutton were selected."

    "The first few days of a new class were wild! Bombing range bombs crews talked about the first and second battles of Dutton and the battle of Melbourne. Bombs were dropped all over the area and at Melbourne one fell on the house of the farmer's wife who had so kindly served coffee and tea to the men clearing the sites. Fortunately it did not explode and no one was injured, but the farmer was irate when he reported it to the control tower. One day I was outside watching and LAC Ed Gilbert was manning the sight when I spotted one coming almost directly at the quadrant. I shouted a warning to Gilbert and fell to the ground to avoid flying splinters. The bomb hit about twenty yards from the shelter. I rushed in to check on Gilbert, as he had no time to get outside and found him crouched under the desk. We both had a good laugh over that one."
    A final memory from F/S Carl Colley:

    "Practicing continued and Carl was attached to the drogue section where he was required to go out into the fields and around the countryside picking up drogues. On one such occasion, a group of Australians were out picking up drogues and they found one that had been out in the field long enough for a skunk to claim it as her home. The Auzzies brought the drogue back to the station along with the unhappy skunk. Being from Australia they had no idea what the cute little creature was. Well, they found out, and they were not too popular around the station for the next few days."

         I hope these stories gave you even half the chuckle they gave the people who lived them! This week's post is just another piece of the positive outcomes and lighter times that come with every dark chapter. 
         Thanks for reading,
    Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

    Wednesday, March 9, 2016

    World War Wednesdays: Elgin County's Own: The 91st Battalion

    The 91st Battalion colours

          It's come to my attention recently that there's a 100th anniversary coming up for Elgin County's own 91st Battalion, so I decided to make a post in honor of this amazing group of local heroes! Information is courtesy of a lovely project by James L. McCallum, which you can read in full here: and photos are thanks to Elgin County Archives.
    An assembly of the battalion, including their goat mascot, outside the barracks opposite the Wilson St. Armory, St. Thomas

         Elgin County's overseas battalion was formed on 25 October 1915, a year after Great Britain declared war on Germany. 940 men were trained for service under the command of Lt.-Col. Green, and it received its colours on 24 May 1916 after a parade through St. Thomas which ended at Pinafore Park.
    Marching west on Talbot Street, St. Thomas

         A month later on 25 June 1916, the battalion was dispatched overseas after a march down Talbot Street that was witnessed by a crowd of 20,000 people. They traveled by train to Halifax, where on 28 June they set sail on the ship Olympic, arriving in Liverpool, England on 5 July.
    Departing for deployment at the Michigan Central Railway Station, St. Thomas
         After ten days at Otterpool Camp, the battalion was transferred to the 3rd Canadian Training Brigade and split up in order to provide reinforcement to other units that had been depleted of manpower. Meanwhile, recruiting still continued in Elgin County, and over 2,400 men from the area volunteered their service during the course of the Great War.

    Some interesting tidbits:

    Recruitment Article from the Aylmer Express, 10 September 1914:
    Will be Tomorrow Night at 7:30 p.m.
    Names are Coming in Fast.  Get Your Name in Before Tomorrow Night

    Have you joined the 30th Battery?  This is the question for every able bodied man in East Elgin. This is our own militia unit and is being raised by the people of this county for the defense of our own borders. No man who values his home or his loved ones, who believes in his country or honors his King will refuse to join.  The task before our own people here in Canada and possibly in Elgin may be very serious before this war is over.  If our shores were invaded by a hostile army every man would be a soldier if he could; but he would be no use without training.  This is the point.  The time to get the training is now. The 30th Battery Canadian Field Artillery requires at once one hundred men. The battery roll is at Mr. Wm. Warnock’s office in Aylmer. The young men of East Elgin should enlist. They should do it at once.
    The first recruit drill will be held at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 11. The men will form up on Talbot St. in front of the new post office. The elements of infantry drill will be taught. Every man should be on hand for the first drill.  Lt.-Col. Walter James Brown will be in charge.
    So far as Canadians and Britishers are concerned military service is no longer optional.  It is a duty that no true man will shirk.  Only those who have the necessary physical qualifications will be asked to go on duty; but the obligation of working and fighting for our country is on the shoulders of every man.  No one is exempt.  Every man in Canada between 18 and 60 may be called if required.  It would be an outrage if Canadians were forced to use the ballot to fill the ranks of the militia.  Let us have volunteers.  This is your opportunity. The Canadian Militia is a home defense force, organized, trained and maintained for the defense of our own homes and loved one. Every man should be a citizen soldier.  Will you?
    Presentation of the 91st Battalion colours at Canterbury Cathedral, England, 1916

    Excerpt from a diary entry by Pte. John William Cracknell (from the Kingsmill area) describing the voyage of the 91st Battalion:
         We have been on the boat now about two days.  After arriving in Halifax on June 28, about midnight, we stayed on the train until morning, then we boarded about noon and started to look over the ship.  This is the sister ship to the Titanic.  Is sure some size.  It’s main measurements are 822 feet long, 72 feet wide, height 104 feet from boat deck to keel. The boat deck is the one that the lifeboats are on.  There is another deck above this with a bridge.  No doubt you will be able to form some idea of the size of it from these measurements.  There are four smoke stacks on it and everyone of them is as big as an ordinary silo.  It is about 60 feet from the boat deck to the water level and about forty feet of this canoe is below the water.  By the time we get off this boat we will not have seen one quarter of it.  There are about 7,000 men on the boat, including the crew.  I might say here that I would like to have seen her as a passenger ship. Since being turned into a troopship she has been almost completely remodelled, all the costly fittings have been torn down and all staterooms but a few to accommodate the officers.  The ship is armed, carrying a rapid-firing gun fore and aft, besides a machine gun on the corners of the boat deck.  We had our first meal of hardtack when we came on the boat.  No wonder the government wants every man to have good teeth, until you get used to these biscuits, it is like eating bricks, besides there is scarcely any taste to them...

    The Battalion marching along Main Street, Rodney, 18 February 1916
         The 100th Anniversary celebration event will take place from 24-26 June in St. Thomas. Anyone with relatives who served with the 91st Battalion is urged to contact to be a part of the commemoration!

    Thanks for reading, 
         Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

    Saturday, March 5, 2016

    Saturday Sightings- White-footed Mouse

    Happy Saturday Everyone!  We are taking a break from the birds for this blog post to talk about this cute little guy.

    The white-footed mouse is native to North America from Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia in Canada, the southwest USA and Mexico.  This species relies primarily on seeds and nuts, such as acorns and pecans for food.  These they store, when abundant, in their nests for winter, carrying their finds in internal cheek pouches much like squirrels.  During the summer, they eat fruits to some extent, insects, snails and other invertebrates. 

    Where numerous in an area, they can become destructive of stored and shocked grains and consequently need to be controlled. But in most places they are of little or no economic significance if such natural predators as owls, snakes, and weasels are not destroyed.   The white-footed mouse is mainly nocturnal, territorial and solitary.  They can climb and swim well, with a good sense of direction, as well. 
    Fun fact: white-footed mice drum on hollow reeds or dry leaves with their fore paws, producing a prolonged musical buzz, for which the meaning is unclear.
    Have a great upcoming week!

    Wednesday, March 2, 2016

    Not World War Wednesdays: Leap Year Celebrations in Elgin County

         The posts have been rather dark and gloomy lately, so I thought that this week would be a good occasion to do a rare break from tradition and tackle a lighter topic for a change! Yesterday's Leap Day inspired me to remember a few tidbits from my time at Elgin County Archives, and I thought it might be interesting to look at how Leap Days have been observed around the area over the years. In doing that, I noticed some other interesting historical facts that I thought would be interesting to add. Without further ado, here's what I found!


        A Leap Year Dance was held at Alma College, St. Thomas. Photos show a dance card from the event, indicating with whom the owner shared a step or two.Some of the dances include waltzes, a polka, quadrilles, and a Virginia Reel.
         Most dance cards were small, decorative booklets with long strings so the ladies could wear them on their wrists or attach them to their dresses. They were used to record their dance partners, with spaces for the gentleman to sign his name beside which dance he shared. The men would ask the ladies for a particular dance, and they usually carried their own small pencils for this purpose. According to etiquette, if a man introduced himself and asked properly for a dance, the woman could really not refuse. As pieces of social history, dance cards like this one can tell us not only which dances were popular at the time, but who attended certain events and where and when they were held.

         According to a non-digitized item in Elgin County Archives, the people of Wallacetown celebrated February 29, 1904 with a Leap Year party, for which invitations were sent out. Being a Wallacetown native myself, I couldn't help but wonder where in town the party could have been held. I looked into some possible locations from times gone by and was pretty surprised at the options:

    1. The Ontario House Hotel, corner of Talbot and Currie Road
    Photo circa 1907
         According to notes included in the Wallacetown Women's Institute Tweedsmuir Histories, Volume 1, the hotel was originally owned by Mr. John Dromgole and was operated for many years by the Dromgole family before being destroyed by fire. It's hard to see in this picture, but there's a sign over the door that says "Farmers Bank of Canada," because a branch of the bank operated from the hotel for a few months in 1907.
    Here's an earlier photo from around 1895
    2. Old Town Hall, Wallace Street (east of Currie Rd.)
    Photo circa 1950s
         Volume 1 of the Wallacetown Women's Institute Tweedsmuir Histories describes the old town hall as having stood directly across from the old school, on what was then called the "Commons," and was used for meetings of Dunwich councilors. Occasionally, a company selling patent medicines would hold a free concert there, and it was also used for public dances. It was also home to the "Young People's Literary Society". The building had a lock-up or jail in the right corner (!!!). It was later moved to the Wallacetown fairgrounds and used to serve meals during the Fair.

         I'm sure these are just two of many Leap Year celebrations in Elgin over the years, but the rest must have been so memorable that no one thought to record them or digitize them. I find it very interesting that February 29th has traditionally been a day for celebrating and excitement, but 2016's was just another cold weekday. I'll close with a list of years that have had Leap Days in the past up to 2000, and if you know of any interesting events that took place then send them my way!

    1904, 1908, 1912, 1916, 1920, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000

        Facts, photos and info courtesy of Elgin County Archives, and supplementary info thanks to Syracuse University.
    Thanks for reading,
    Delany Leitch (@DLeitch History on Twitter)