To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge (Apr. 5-17, 1917), a group of local history buffs have organized a memorial service for April 9 in Chatham at Christ Church.
Jerry Hind, a local historian and curator of the Gathering Our Heroes project, said the idea was to not let the occasion pass in Chatham-Kent without acknowledging the service and sacrifice of our veterans and those who lost their lives at Vimy during the First World War.
“I felt it needed to be recognized,” Hind said, who works with the IODE and the Books of Remembrance they compiled of area men and women in service. “In 1914, there was only one IODE in Chatham-Kent and they looked after sending treats, clothes and socks overseas in 1914-15.”
Hind said other branches began after that, but not all kept records of local service people, which led to the search for the names of those who served and those who died. He said when the names of people who served were read out, 1,700 names from Chatham were on the list, but 157 men from the former Kent County were left out.
In 2004, after he retired, Hind said he wanted to do something and came across diaries from a man from Ridgetown, who in 1903 wrote about getting a Bernardo child from England to help work on the farm. That child ended up in Chatham in a boarding house with six other “home boys” as they were referred to, and four of those he found out were killed in the First World War. Hind explained that is how he got into researching the world wars.
Between the IODE records and Chatham-Kent Museum, Hind was able to find 157 names and since then, in partnering with them, has found 12,170 names of First and Second World War veterans. The Gather Our Heroes website partnership was the next step and continues to be a work in progress.
In holding the memorial service for the Battle of Vimy, which was a huge turning point in the war and brought Canada into the spotlight as a military force, Hind said he wants to re-involve youth in our history and show people that they do care about Canada’s military past.
“Some kids will say after presentations, ‘How come they don’t tell us about this stuff?’” Hind said. “They tend to know more about American military involvement from movies.”
A group that Hind has a soft spot for and wants to acknowledge at the memorial service is the Nursing Sisters, who worked on the front lines, on ships and in tent hospitals, tending to the wounded in horrific conditions.
From Chatham-Kent, Hind’s research found three Nursing Sisters in particular. Alice Gertrude French was one lady Hind said he would have loved to have met. He said when the war broke out, she immediately sent a telegram to the prime minister of Canada saying she was a nurse and wanted to enlist, adding she would pay her own way over.
She enlisted and was overseas from 1914-1919 and was one of only 12 Nursing Sisters to be awarded the Mons Star for service on the front line, as well as the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class and the Victory Medal. She came back to the area, living in Dresden until her death in 1943.
Pauline Rose and Anna Beulah Stover, both of Chatham, also served as Nursing Sisters, with Stover attaining the rank of Major and overseeing two stationary hospitals.
“Stover had the rank of Major and probably would have scared generals,” Hind said. “She oversaw two stationary hospitals and these were huge hospitals. And Rose was awarded the Royal Red Cross as a result of her actions after the Germans bombed a Canadian hospital.”
Taking Vimy Ridge from the Germans was a huge accomplishment for the Canadians, who succeeded where French and British troops failed. Hind said during that battle, 3,598 Canadians died and 7,000 were wounded, making Vimy the costliest battle in Canadian military history.
“Canada is not a militaristic country. We don’t pick fights, but we won’t run away from one if we have to,” Hind said. “The Vimy monument on Hill 145 has no soldier. It is for all the fallen who were killed and their graves unknown. Over 12,000 bodies were never found.”
The memorial service at Christ Church will have doors open at 1:30 p.m. with a video playing that was done by a young King George School student who visited Vimy and recorded his thoughts on what he saw.
The Colour Party will enter at 2:00 p.m., followed by a Service of Remembrance for the Fallen, the reading of the names of the Fallen and displays and refreshments in the Church Hall at the conclusion of the service.