Wednesday, April 6, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Vimy Ridge Week in Elgin County

     This Saturday, April 9 marks ninety-nine years since the battle of Vimy Ridge during the First World War. Often considered the battle where Canada came of age as a nation, it was also a significant day for Elgin County. On the first day of the battle, Wallacetown native Ellis Wellwood Sifton single-handedly eliminated a German machine gun emplacement at the cost of his own life, posthumously receiving the Victoria Cross. We reflect on his selfless act each year with pride and gratitude, and the Elgin County Museum holds an annual program to commemorate him. This year, the program will take place at the museum on Saturday at 2pm. It will feature local re-enactors and demonstrations, as well as a number of soldiers' letters to groups across the county who sent their support. In addition, Sifton's original Victoria Cross will be present for viewing, an occasion which only occurs annually on this day. More information available from the St. Thomas Times-Journal:
Ellis Sifton
     Since there have been so many years since Vimy, there have been numerous commemorations and ceremonies to observe its anniversary. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at various events in Elgin County that recognized local contributions to the battle through the years!

50th Anniversary, 1967
     This photo shows a Vimy Ridge commemorative service at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 41, St. Thomas on April 10, 1967. The ceremony was covered in the Times-Journal that day with the caption:

"Veterans of Vimy - The Battle of Vimy Ridge was commemorated in St. Thomas on Sunday with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pearl Street Cenotaph. Left to right are, front row: A. B. Ellis, Roy Palmerston, Jack Bentley, Art Cooper, Harry Marshall and A. E. Watts; second row, J. F. Pratt, George Smith, Dan Jackson, Cyril Brown, Chet Smith, Maurice Heath, M. Nicholls; third row, E. B. Martel, Bert Watson, Jim Baron, Ted Bentley and Charles McAvay; fourth row, Reg. Mayne, Ellis Walker, Art Hardy, George Tanner, Rev. Charles Cook, Louis Mann, not identified; fifth row, Bill Crocker, Alex Betterley, Ernie Mitchell, Fred Lawson and George Hambleton; sixth row, J. E. Johnson, Frank Sefton, not identified, Joe Skelding, Stan Robinson, Harvey Pettit and C. W. Ball."

60th Anniversary, 1977
Front from left: Fred Morley, Charlie Cook, Charles Slather, Clarence Silver, Fred White, Herb Tucker, Bob Watson. Rear: George Walker, Dave McKillop, Herb Watson, Tom Watts, Art Freeman, Ernie Mitchell, Max Morriss, Charlie Baldwin, George Stevenson.
The Times-Journal from April 11 of that year describes the commemorative ceremony, again held at the Legion on John Street, St. Thomas:
"For many, the Battle of Vimy Ridge is merely a date in a history book. For Fred White, it remains a very real and tangible experience. Mr. White, now a resident of Westminster Hospital in London, was among over 100 First World War veterans attending an all-day commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, held Saturday at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 41 Hall on John Street.
     Sixty years ago Saturday, Fred White was a 17 year-old private with the 4th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The battalion was one of many massed together for the decisive Vimy Ridge encounter. 
     Looking back on the battle, Mr. White recalls the great suffering of many of the soldiers. "You didn't know whether you were going to eat today or tomorrow," he said. "You had to carry your own rations or you went hungry." 
     Mr. White was a scout and a runner for his battalion at the time of Vimy Ridge. "I had a lot of responsibility," he recalled. The details of the battle itself were harder for Mr. White to pin down. What he did have was a very clear recollection of the feeling of the battle.
     "You've got to watch out for yourself in the mud and the crap," he said. "Got to control yourself; your mind is the main thing. You had to keep your mind ahead of you; if you didn't you've had it."....
     The activities started with a memorial service, followed by movies of the war. There was a luncheon attended by local elected officials, then entertainment in the afternoon."

     These are just some of the ways in which the area has reflected upon its connections to one of the most significant events in Canadian history. How will you be recognizing this anniversary?
     Thanks for reading,
Delany Leitch (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Information courtesy of Elgin County Archives and the St. Thomas Times-Journal.


Linda said...

Fascinating post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Delany Leitch said...

Thank you so much for reading!