Saturday, April 29, 2017

National Volunteer Week

A huge thank you to all our supporters, donors, members and volunteers for all you do for Tyrconnell Heritage Society, John E. Pearce Provincial Park, and Backus-Page House Museum.  You are appreciated.

Anyone wishing to volunteer, please contact our office at 519-762-3072

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

World War Wednesdays: First World War Crafts and Material History

Two French women in the recently liberated village of Maretz, France, October 1918, Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs [AWM E03556]
     Something we don't often cover on WWW is material history, which uses artifacts and objects to discuss a particular historical moment. I recently found a great resource for some First World War women's history and thought I would share it. All text is copied directly from the National Museum of American History collections on French stitchery and Belgian War lace, and all photos come from the two collections as well. I hope you enjoy these wonderful examples of traditional crafts that were given new meaning during the Great War.

French Stitchery
Northern France was one of the most war-torn areas of the Great War—the Germans entered early on in the war, displacing thousands of French people and destroying much of the region.  As fighting continued in France and trench warfare began, the country became even more devastated.  For the people who remained in northern France during the war, life itself was a battle, a daily struggle to survive, to make ends meet, and to rebuild lives.
The objects in this section are embroidered household items, which at first glance may seem quaint and unconnected to the hardships of living in a war zone.  However, these objects and their backstory show how profoundly World War I affected civilian women and how these women fought to meet the challenges of war.  Through the Society for Employment of Women in France, women in the region of Lorraine were able to sell this hand-made stitchery in America, with all of the proceeds going to the women and their families.  A June 1916 letter that accompanied some of these items paints a vivid picture of the women's lives and their efforts at survival: "The women sit inside their houses under fire constantly, and embroider. When a shell is heard on its way they duck into the cellars until it bursts, and then come out again at once. The cellars are all marked—that is[,] the safe ones, with signs pointing to them and telling their capacity. The women who embroider are those whose men—sons, husbands, and fathers are at the front or wounded or killed . . ."
This powerful scene of French peasant women working tirelessly to embroider household items, close enough to the front to be under constant fire, becomes all the more impressive when you see what the women were making.  The meticulous needlework represents the main Allied forces of the Great War in extraordinarily detailed cross-stitched tableaux depicting colorful soldier figures, flags, coats of arms, and even the city of Paris with planes flying overhead, protecting the city.  In addition to embroidery, which the women typically did during the winter months, they also took to the fields during the summer and tended crops, working until the fields were all harvested.
The flax for these objects was grown in Africa and shipped to France, where it was hand-woven to make the linen.
WWI French stitchery, ca.1914-1918: tea napkin with Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom motif (red, gold, and blue shield at center; gold lion at left standing on blue banner; silver unicorn at right standing on blue banner; gold crown at top with red and silver accents). Green embroidery around edges. Pictured at top center of photo. Made by French peasant women in French Lorraine. Sold in America through the Society for Employment of Women in France. 2011.0086, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. (Other napkins hold the coat of arms of The Kingdom of Serbia, the French Third Republic, Belgium, the Russian Empire, and the Kingdom of Italy).
Linen cover for unknown object, ca.1914-1918. Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom motif in center (red, gold, and blue shield at center; gold lion at left standing on blue banner; silver unicorn at right standing on blue banner; gold crown at top). Red and blue border around motif. Made by French peasant women in French Lorraine during World War I. Sold in America through the Society for Employment of Women in France. 2011.0086, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.

WWI French stitchery: large drawstring knitting bag, ca. 1914-1918. One side has the French Third Republic emblem motif (blue "RF" embroidered on red shield at top; 4 masted French flags below; green and white croix de guerre [war cross] at bottom with gold center) with "1918" embroidered underneath in red. The other side depicts 7 soldiers from different Allied nations. Proceeding from left to right, the soldiers are as follows: French (holding a large French flag), Russian, British, Belgian, American, Serbian, and Italian. To the right of the soldiers is a flag pole flying the Allied flags, from top to bottom: Italy, Serbia, America, Belgium, Britain, Russian Empire, and France. Below the soldiers is "1914 - 1918" stitched in red and blue. Green embroidery along the bottom and green X stitch holding drawstring on both sides. A rusty needle is in the top flap of the bag. Made by French peasant women in French Lorraine. Sold in America through the Society for Employment of Women in France. 2011.0086, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.
Rectangular brush and comb case with scene of "Aeroplanes Guarding Paris" embroidered on front,ca. 1914-1918. Four gold airplanes fly over a gray and black Paris skyline. Red and blue border. Price tag is pinned to the inside flap and indicates that this brush and comb case was sold for $1.50. Made by French peasant women in French Lorraine during World War I. Sold in America through the Society for Employment of Women in France. 2011.0086, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.
Belgian War Lace
The laces made in Belgium during World War I are an important part of the lace holdings of the Division of Home and Community Life's Textile Collection in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. They are representative of laces made by about 50,000 lace makers, many of whom were women, throughout Belgium from 1914 through 1919, especially during the Great War.
In August 1914, the German army invaded and occupied Belgium. When Great Britain set up a blockade of the Belgian borders to prevent supplies from reaching Germany through Belgium, seven million Belgian people were cut off from imported food and other needed supplies.  After the start of World War I the Commission for the Relief in Belgium (CRB) was established with Herbert Hoover, a wealthy industrialist living in London at the time, as chairman. Hoover, later U.S. President (1929-1933), was instrumental in negotiating with England and Germany for the delivery of much needed food shipments to Belgium. The negotiations also included the importation of thread for the Belgian lace makers and the export of the lace made from this thread. Orders for and deliveries of war laces were managed through the CRB office in London.  Numerous people in the Allied countries were generous in their willingness to buy the laces to support the Belgians.
The Belgian lace committees worked closely with the CRB, especially as the lace makers' work became even more important during the war. Several famous Belgian artists were enlisted to create new designs. Among them were Isidore de Rudder, his sister Maria de Rudder, Charles Michel, and Juliette Wytsman, who designed some of the war laces that are now part of the collection at the National Museum of American History.
World War I laces often included names of people, places, inscriptions, and dates—a characteristic not usually found in other lace work. The lace often incorporates the coats of arms or national symbols of the Allied nations, as well as the nine Belgian provinces, in recognition of the help received. It was hoped that these distinguishing elements would appeal to generous people around the world who might buy these laces in support of the Belgians. Most of the laces in the collection at the National Museum of American History were bought in Europe by American collectors and donated to the Museum.
About Lace and Lacemaking
Lace is an ornamental openwork fabric created by looping, twisting, braiding, or knotting threads either by hand or by machine. The main categories of handmade lace are needle lace, bobbin lace, and decorated nets.  Needle lace is created by making looped or knotted variations on the buttonhole stitch with a threaded needle on top of a pattern. Bobbin lace is created by twisting, crossing, or plaiting multiple threads wound on bobbins. It is also made on a pattern, sometimes called a pricking. Bobbin and needle techniques can be combined in the same piece of lace. Bobbin- and needle-made lace motifs can also be applied to handmade or machine-made nets.
During the 17th and 18th centuries the handmade lace industry played an important part in the economy of many European countries. Lacemaking was mostly a cottage industry with individual lace makers working in their homes for a lace dealer, who would supply the threads and patterns and collect the finished lace from the lace maker. Producing a handmade piece of lace is very time consuming, making the delicate fabric a very expensive and desirable fashion accessory. Members of royalty and the aristocracy were the customers for the fine laces, with both men and women competing to display the most exquisite lace on their fashionable clothes in the 17th and 18thcenturies. However, by the end of the 18th century, men had stopped wearing lace, and fashion shifted to a much simpler, unadorned dress for women, so the demand for lace was rapidly declining. Additionally, the Industrial Revolution saw the development of machines for making lace that brought an end to most of the opulent handmade lace industry.
One of the lacemaking centers of Europe that suffered from the advances in machinery wrought by the Industrial Revolution was Flanders. Belgium's Queen Elisabeth was concerned about the decrease in demand for handmade lace, so in 1910 and 1911 she helped establish lace committees specifically to improve both the quality and the designs of the lace, as well as to better the lives of the lace makers. Another committee was established for promoting the sale of Belgian lace abroad: the Queen noticed that handmade Belgian lace enjoyed a renewed interest, especially among Americans. Committee members included the Vicomtesse de Beughem, an American married to a Belgian nobleman, Madame Kefer-Mali of Brussels, and Mrs. Brand Whitlock, wife of the American Envoy (later Ambassador) to Belgium. Some of the laces in the war laces collection have connections to these three generous women.
Lacemaking in America occurred primarily among European immigrants, who practiced their craft in communities all over the country. The only documented large-scale handmade lacemaking industry in the U.S. was in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in the late 18th century. That industry also came to an end with changes in fashion and the development of lace machines in the early 19th century. Currently lacemaking traditions are being kept alive by modern lace makers who research and create lace as a hobby.
This collar has motifs of peace doves and floral vases executed in mixed Brussels bobbin and needle lace techniques with ground and fillings in point de Gaze style needle lace, ca. 1914-1918. The scalloped edge has picots. Identified by the donor as lace made by Belgian lace makers during World War I. 273245, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.
Part of a set of six, this Valenciennes bobbin lace medallion focuses on the American eagle motif, ca. 1916-1918. Two other medallions with the Belgian lion coat-of-arms, two with the municipal shield of Ruysselede (Ruiselede) in the Belgian province of West Flanders; and another with the American eagle complete the set. See a similar motif in TE*E383967. Belgian lace makers made these laces during World War I. 273245, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.
This fan leaf was designed for the Belgian Lace Committee by Belgian painter Charles Michel, ca. 1915-1916. His name is worked in needle lace into the ground (reseau) along the inner edge. The central motif of helmet, swords and weaponry is flanked on either side by the war years 1914 and 1915. The rising sun, laurel leaves and other floral motifs are also included. Brussels bobbin lace was mainly used for the motifs and connected with Point de Gaze type needle lace. Belgian lace makers made this fan leaf during World War I. It has never been mounted to fan sticks. 273245, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.
If you're interested in seeing more items or further information on the collections, they can be found at:
Thanks so much for reading,
     Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

World War Trips Available

I bet you didn't know we have a local resident that organizes group tours and getaways featuring World War locations.  Darlene Ford of Wallacetown, at my request, has provided the following information about Vimy Ridge - 100th Anniversary Tours and D-Day Tours. 

The Vimy RidgeTour is available from 5 day land tours up to 14 day tours, escorted by specialists on WWI history. Available from end of April -- mid Sept. 2017.  

If you are interested in WWII there are 5 day land tours or up to 14 days of WWII D-Day Landing Beaches & Battle of Normandy with well informed local guides as well as your escorted tour guides.  

Contact Darlene Ford at 519-762-2990 and follow Group Getaways By Farlene on Facebook by clicking here.  
A note from Darlene about her trip with husband Jim in 2016.  "We went on the Great Canadian War Memorial Tour last Sept. 2016.  Both of our Fathers fought in France, Holland & Belgium and I have an Uncle buried in Beny-sur-mer near Juno Beach were he was killed on D-Day.  His name is on the maple leaf shaped plaque on Canada House on Juno Beach. We are both changed and with great pride and respect for all men and women who served and the ones that gave their lives for our freedom which most people take for granted.  Like the old saying goes you had to be there to understand."  Darlene Ford  519-762-2990

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

World War Wednesdays: The Warsaw Zoo: Story Behind the Film

    Welcome back, history buffs! Now that I'm in the middle of my last undergraduate exam season, I can't help but think of all the things I'd rather be doing than writing an endless pile of papers. Right near the top of the list is going to the movies, because there is what looks to be a fantastic film in theaters that portrays an amazing true story about the Holocaust. The Zookeeper's Wife draws from the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinska, and recounts the true story of she and her husband Jan's incredible act of bravery as part of the Polish resistance.
Jan Zabinski, Yad Vashem

     The Warsaw Zoo under acclaimed director Jan Zabinski was one of Europe's largest zoos during the 1930s, and its expanded area was home to many animals including Tuzinka the elephant, its star attraction. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, vast sections of the zoo were destroyed in the bombings, many animals were killed, and others (including Tuzinka) were taken to Germany. Despite these horrors, Zabinski was aware of the immense human suffering on behalf Warsaw's Jews at the hands of the German occupiers. When the Warsaw Ghetto was established, he and his wife Antonina took it upon themselves to help their Jewish neighbors.
Antonina Zabinski, Yad Vashem

     As an employee of the Warsaw municipality, Jan was allowed to enter the ghetto, and under the pretext of supervising the trees and small public garden on the other side of the walls, would regularly visit and assist its inhabitants. As the situation in the ghetto rapidly deteriorated, Zabinski took his aid one step further by offering shelter to the Warsaw Jews, taking them over to the Aryan side, providing them with essential lifesaving documents, finding them accommodations, and, when necessary, sheltering them on the zoo's grounds and at his personal home. Regina Koenigstein describes the Zabinski villa as a modern Noah's Ark, and according to many testimonies numerous Jews found temporary shelter in the zoo's abandoned animal cells.

     The Zabinkkis' dangerous undertaking was not limited to the physical assistance of Warsaw Jews. Rachel Auerbach, who participated in attempts to establish a ghetto archive of sorts which documented the story of life behind the walls in Warsaw, was in touch with Zabinski throughout that period. She went into hiding after the ghetto liquidation and continued recording events in her diary, but as the front came closer to Warsaw, she gave one of her notebooks to Zabinski. He put it into a glass jar and buried it at the zoo, and in April 1945 she was able to retrieve her manuscript and publish it.

     Jan Zabinski also participated in the Polish uprising in Warsaw of August and September 1944 as a member of the Polish underground Home Army. He was taken as a prisoner to German upon its suppression, but Antonina was able to continue his work and attended to the needs of Jews left behind in the city's ruins. In his own testimony in explanation of his motives, Zabinski later reflected:
 “I do not belong to any party, and no party program was my guide during the occupation... I am a Pole – a democrat. My deeds were and are a consequence of a certain psychological composition, a result of progressive-humanistic upbringing, which I received at home as well as in Kreczmar High School. Many times I wished to analyze the causes for dislike for Jews and I could not find any, besides artificially formed ones.”

     Jan and Antonina Zabinski were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations on September 21, 1965. All information is courtesy of Yad Vashem, and some incredible primary resources can be accessed here:
Please let me know if you've seen the film, I'd love to hear more about it and look forward to seeing it myself!
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Vimy Ridge 100th Anniversary

A replica of the Canadian Vimy Ridge memorial carved from ice at Winterlude in Ottawa, February 2017
     As I'm sure you're all well aware, this upcoming Sunday, April 9 marks one hundred years since the start of the battle of Vimy Ridge, an iconic moment in Canadian history. As such, it has been one hundred years since Wallacetown's own Ellis Wellwood Sifton lost his young life on the ridge in a selfless act of bravery. In past years, we've looked at the battle in detail, explored the Ellis Sifton story, and reflected on past commemorations of the battle in Elgin County. This year being such a significant anniversary, I thought it would be better to encourage you all to experience, rather than read about, this centenary. I've put together a guide to commemoration events wherever I may have readers, and hope you'll all find the opportunity to participate in at least one.

Elgin County
A young Ellis Sifton at home with his dog, courtesy of Elgin County Archives
     The Elgin County Museum is hosting a special edition of its annual Vimy Lecture featuring local history buff Blair Ferguson at St. Peter's Anglican Church, Tyrconnell (where Ellis Sifton attended church), on Sunday at 11AM. Here is some further information:
General Sir Arthur Currie being knighted 
     The hometown of General Sir Arthur Currie is working on a wonderful project to commemorate the anniversary, which features the planting of an "honour guard" of one hundred maple trees on the east side of Adair Blvd as a living tribute to those who served. The ceremony is scheduled for Sunday beginning at 11AM with the tree planting event on April 22 at 8AM. More details:

     Local history buffs in Chatham-Kent have organized an anniversary ceremony to be held on Sunday at Christ Church, beginning at 2PM. Details:

     An evening of remembrance and overnight vigil will be held at the National War Memorial on Saturday, April 8 starting at 7PM, followed by the official government ceremony also at the memorial on Sunday beginning at 8:30AM. Here is some more information:

     Also, the Canadian War Museum is offering free admission on Sunday so that the public can join them in commemorating the anniversary with the unveiling of the new Vimy Ridge exhibit in Gallery 2. Find out more here:

     I hope you'll endeavor to take in some of your area's Vimy programs, and please advise if I've missed any events or you don't see your community on the list!
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)